A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Book of 2011
A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Best Fiction of 2011 Title
One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2011
A Salon Best Fiction of 2011 title
One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books of the Year 2011
It's the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, 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 tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics 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 amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. 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.
Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes) conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Theresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them.
So far so good
I am only partially into this book but had to say something since the previous reviewer gave a negative opinion (it seems) based only on the summary.
Loved the unique and tactfully written transgender topic of his previous book, Middlesex. It seems, this one is lining up for the same thoughtful, respectful view into another personal struggle...mental illness.
Professional book reviewers suggest that this effort is not as epic as Middlesex. I say so be it. I love author surprises. It serves to show the writer is not a one trick pony. I know a Eugenides book will be a sound financial and lit investment either way. If I wanted an uncomplicated read I'd pick up a nick sparks paperback.
A worthy read
The enjoyed the plot for its unpredictability, as I did not see how the novel would end until the very last page. The author adeptly shows the agony of bi-polar disorder with the plot underscoring the fact that manic-depression is never cured, just managed. I never truly cared about any of the three primary characters, which made it easier to pay attention to their choices and keep track of the complexities presented by the time switches in the plot and setting changes. All in all, a worthy read.
The marriage plot
A good read, this book will hold your interest. It does not measure up, though, to the standard of Middlesex, which I thought was excellent. Whereas the story of Middlesex has stayed with me over the years since I read it -- and I very well may want to read it again someday -- this one will fade away into the category of "just another pretty good book". I didn't read "The Virgin Suicides", but I know the story from the film. The storyline of Marriage Plot seems less inspired than Suicides.