Well, I didn't hate this as much as I expected to from the first two hundred pages or so? What saved it from complete one-star infamy for me was, primWell, I didn't hate this as much as I expected to from the first two hundred pages or so? What saved it from complete one-star infamy for me was, primarily, that Leonard finally got his own section... albeit more than halfway through the book. He was still essentially written out of the story in a way that's really troubling, but at least Eugenides bothered to allow him a perfunctory perspective, I guess? (I know, I'm giving him too much credit.) And the one quote in this entire four-hundred-page novel that I marked because I liked it came from that section:
Often he had the impression that the person answering questions from the scratchy armchair was a dummy he was controlling, that this had been true throughout his life, and that his life had become so involved with operating the dummy that he, the ventriloquist, had ceased to have a personality, becoming just an arm stuffed up the puppet's back. (255)
[Later edited to add: No, you know what, it's a one-star book. It's getting one star. ENOUGH BEING A SHRINKING VIOLET ABOUT GIVING ONE-STAR RATINGS, L.]
The treatment of Leonard wasn't the only problem I had with this book. I also find Eugenides's prose, here and elsewhere, incredibly obnoxious, pedestrian, and overly stylized but deficient in substance or soul. I mean, he hits you with this mess on the second page of The Marriage Plot:
Early June, Providence, Rhode Island, the sun up for almost two hours already, lighting up the pale bay and the smokestacks of the Narragansett Electric factory, rising like the sun on the Brown University seal emblazoned on all the pennants and banners draped up over campus, a sun with a sagacious face, representing knowledge. But this sun—the one over Providence—was doing the metaphorical sun one better, because the founders of the university, in their Baptist pessimism, had chosen to depict the light of knowledge enshrouded by clouds, indicating that ignorance had not yet been dispelled from the human realm, whereas the actual sun was just now fighting its way through cloud cover, sending down splintered beams of light and giving hope to the squadrons of parents, who’d been soaked and frozen all weekend, that the unseasonable weather might not ruin the day’s festivities. (4)
Not to mention all the shallow intellectual name-dropping; the stereotype-driven dissection of The (Only) Reasons People Become Undergrad English Majors;* the incredibly offensive interlude where Mitchell's in Paris being tormented by his best friend's Evil Feminist Girlfriend (seriously? seriously?);** and for that matter, the fact that Mitchell--a painfully transparent authorial insert--not only is supposed to be likable(?) / admirable(?!) / sympathetic to the reader but also gives shape to the book, so that the other two protagonists (the woman and the crazy person! easily written off!) turn out to be there mostly just to further his spiritual journey.
But it was how Leonard was dealt with, and Eugenides's take on mental illness, that ruined this book for me. Yep, breaking up with your short-term college boyfriend is like being clinically depressed (page 122)! Okay, sure! And Marriage Plot goes downhill from there!
*She'd become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read. [. . .] Some people majored in English to prepare for law school. Others became journalists. The smartest guy in the honors program, Adam Vogel, a child of academics, was planning on getting a Ph.D. and becoming an academic himself. That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren't left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical—because they weren't musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they'd done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn't know what to major in majored in. (20-21)
Thanks for explaining that one to me, Jeffrey!
**[Claire, after a discussion of the menstrual mikvah:] "The whole institutionalized form of Western religion is all about telling women they're inferior, unclean, and subordinate to men. And if you actually believe in any of that stuff, I don't know what to say."
"You're not having your period right now, are you?" Mitchell said.
Claire's expressive face went blank. "I can't believe you just said that," she said.
"I was just kidding," Mitchell said. His face was suddenly hot.
"What a total sexist thing to say."
"I was kidding," he repeated, his voice tight. (138-139)
And on and on. How dare feminist readers ever critique "certain once-canonical writers (always male, always white)" (141)? How dare they accuse sensitive men of misogyny? How dare they object to being objectified? etc, etc, etc....more
I think the middle book of the Cornish trilogy, What's Bred In The Bone, is probably, objectively, the best of the bunch, and some of the little thingI think the middle book of the Cornish trilogy, What's Bred In The Bone, is probably, objectively, the best of the bunch, and some of the little things that irritate me about Davies--his thematic repetitiveness (ENOUGH KATER MURR); his slips into cultural sermonizing; his handling of queer characters and themes--were too much on display in The Lyre of Orpheus.
On the other hand, I'm such a sucker for fiction about backstage drama, about the theatrical process--especially Canadian/Stratford-related fiction, apparently. [See also: Timothy Findley's [book:Spadework: A Novel|608724] and the television show Slings and Arrows.] Also sort-of-love triangles and (not unrelatedly) Arthuriana. So I was kind of destined to enjoy this book despite its flaws....more
Need a little more distance on this before I can say for sure, but I think this may be the novel I've always wanted Alan Hollinghurst (or, well, any mNeed a little more distance on this before I can say for sure, but I think this may be the novel I've always wanted Alan Hollinghurst (or, well, any modern gay novelist of similar talent--of whom there aren't many!) to write. Oh, this book, THIS BOOK....more
I have such mixed feelings about this novel. I need to come back when I have more of a brain and write a better review. But I did read it within aboutI have such mixed feelings about this novel. I need to come back when I have more of a brain and write a better review. But I did read it within about twenty-four hours in June 2009, while waiting for the San Francisco Dyke March to begin, so I'm inclined to like it despite some of its sexual-identity weirdnesses....more
A tragicomic epistolary novel about literary hero-worship. How can you go wrong with that, right? Often quite funny, e.g.:
What? Are my underpants aubeA tragicomic epistolary novel about literary hero-worship. How can you go wrong with that, right? Often quite funny, e.g.:
What? Are my underpants aubergine? Of course they're not aubergine! Don't you know anything about my taste at all? But she may be saying they're aubergine! That's what they do, these people. They embroider, they improve on the truth - they tell lies.
Not at all aubergine, my pants, not faintly aubergine. Nor tartan, for that matter, nor spotted, nor leopard-skin, nor Union Jack. Nor peach. That particular pair, in fact, were pale blue. And that only because they got mixed up with something in the wash.
But ultimately, Frayn's a playwright at heart, and this book reads like a new Noises Off searching for a stage, where it would be easier to suspend disbelief about all the clever repartee. Not a bad book by any means, but not Frayn at his best....more
Basically, let us summarize my rhapsodizing thus: I want Tom Stoppard to write my life.
HOUSMAN: Scholarship... [is] where we're nearest to our humanneBasically, let us summarize my rhapsodizing thus: I want Tom Stoppard to write my life.
HOUSMAN: Scholarship... [is] where we're nearest to our humanness. Useless knowledge for its own sake. Useful knowledge is good, too, but it's for the faint-hearted, an elaboration of the real thing, which is only to shine some light, it doesn't matter where on what, it's the light itself, against the darkness, it's what's left of God's purpose when you take away God. It doesn't mean I don't care about the poetry. I do. Diffugere nives goes through me like a spear.... The recovery of ancient texts is the highest task of all - Erasmus, bless him. It is work to be done. Posterity has a brisk way with manuscripts: scholarship is a small redress against the vast unreason of what is taken from us - it's not just the worthless that perish, Jesus doesn't save....more
HANNAH: You musn't give up. VALENTINE: Why? Didn't you agree with Bernard? HANNAH: Oh, that. It's all trivial - youTom Stoppard is the wisest of us all:
HANNAH: You musn't give up. VALENTINE: Why? Didn't you agree with Bernard? HANNAH: Oh, that. It's all trivial - your grouse, my hermit, Bernard's Byron. Comparing what we're looking for misses the point. It's wanting to know that makes us matter. Otherwise we're going out the way we came in. That's why you can't believe in the afterlife, Valentine. Believe in the after, by all means, but not the life. Believe in God, the soul, the spirit, the infinite, believe in angels if you like, but not in the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views. If the answers are in the back of the book I can wait, but what a drag. Better to struggle on knowing that failure is final....more