The Marriage Plot
It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner and college Darwinist – suddenly turns up in a seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus – who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange – resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they have learned. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Summary and photo from Goodreads.com
At the time I am writing this post I have just finished reading The Marriage Plot and all I can say is WHEW. Not in a good or bad way, but EXHAUSTED way.
First half of the book? I absolutely loved. Completely loved. It is every English major’s or literature lover’s dream– I loved hearing about Madeleine’s paper on what is called the marriage plot (it is a reference to 19th century plot lines) and the snippets of conversations she would have in her classes. A lot of it went over my head, but I still found it interesting. Juxtaposing her own relationship issues while being a woman in 1980’s against those of a woman in the 1800’s was clever and framed the novel very well. There are snippets of so much in this– spirituality, love, feminism, mental disorders– that are incredibly wise and poignant. But then at about half way through the book, I don’t know what happened; I just lost interest. Eugenides is good with words, there is no doubt about that, but I had a very hard time sustaining my involvement with the characters.
With that being said, I love the ending. I absolutely love the last page so much. It makes me happy and it just… yea. But I had to work to get to it. Honestly, Eugenides sums up how I feel about his novel inside of his novel (I took out a few words in the first sentence to prevent spoilers):
“The experience…was like reading certain difficult books. It was like plowing through late James, or the pages about agrarian reform in Anna Karenina, until you suddenly got to a good part again, which kept on getting better and better until you were so enthralled that you were almost grateful for the previous dull stretch because it increased your eventual pleasure” (346). That was my reading experience mainly starting halfway through the book. A lot of ups and down.
So if you are looking for a smart novel set in college or just after college? I definitely suggest picking this one up. Also, if you are into academics or literature if only for the name dropping. If you are not looking for something that is very involved, I would suggest holding off for a little bit or try Eugenides other works (I haven’t read them, but I have heard good things).
Things for you to do:
-Add this to your to-be-read shelf on Goodreads.com
-Watch a video of getbookish talk about The Marriage Plot. She ended up loving it and after listening to her it makes me feel like I missed something. Ha! (Link sends you to YouTube- she starts talking about it specifically at 1:20)
Thank you for reading!
4/95 books to read
This is part of my reading pursuits I mentioned in this blog post.