Review: Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot”

by writereaderly

I don’t understand what this novel wants to achieve. College students Madeleine Hanna (privileged white literary romantic) shacks up with Leonard Bankhead (mentally ill bogan scientist) yet remains beloved of Mitchell Grammaticus (yearning Greek-American religious thinker and later traveller). They (almost) all sleep with each other. They all study some sort of “marriage” from their different disciplines. Bonds between humans, souls and yeast cells all prove untenable and easily broken. No viable substitute is contemplated or offered, but it’s not especially depressing, well, or hopeful. The end.

I’d been dying to read this, Eugenides’ first novel since the excelentísimo and fascinating Middlesex, and talked Bookclub into it accordingly. But I simply don’t know how to understand it: either I’m not smart enough, or I’m too smarty-pants to find it moving. I was delighted by the first section when Madeleine is blindsided by post-modernism and what it means for romance – those were my uni friends, I was forced into those wanky subjects, and I laughed out loud in thrilled recognition – but after that I just didn’t care about these poor lost 20-somethings realising that the social mechanism of marriage did them no favours. If Eugenides’ premise was that 1983 was the year to set successful stories without a definable marriage plot, this wasn’t the book to prove it. Disappointing. Eugenides’ considerable skills can be put to better display than a mundane novel like this one.

PS And I don’t understand the flies on the front cover.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading: Three good reads, including a twinny bed-read on Sunday
Where it went: Home via BT
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods; Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson