Dhitri's Reviews > The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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Feb 12, 12

bookshelves: kindle
Read from February 08 to 13, 2012

Boy meets girl, falls in love. Boy misses his chance, girl loses interest, moves on to another guy. But not quite as she now has feelings for both, although the feelings are unequal. Whenever things don't work out with her new beau, girl falls back on boy. And then comes the time when she has to decide. Sounds familiar? It's the classic love triangle plot conceived in the 19th century romance(think Jane Austen). In "The Marriage Plot" Eugenides transposed the plot into early 1980s Providence, casting Ivy Leaguers in place of English gentry.

It is an attempt at deconstructing love and commitment. In the most literal sense as Eugenides borrows the voice of some of the most prolific thinkers in semiotics, notably Roland Barthes "A Lover's Discourse". The turbulent love triangle started when Madeleine Hanna, the ingenue, an English major from a wealthy family in New Jersey, laid eyes on Leonard Bankhead, a tall, intelligent Biology major from oregon with a bold personality that exhudes the strongest of sexual appeals in Semiotics 211. All the shile they hit it off, Mitchell Grammaticus, a religious studies major, who has developed a platonic friendship with Madeleine, harbours a secret crush harbouring obsession as he dreams on marrying her.

Who will Madeleine end up with? This is the big question that hovered over the book right from page one. Eugenides introduces the premise of "The Marriage Plot", a theory that stipulates that 19th century literature is essentially plotted around the event of a marriage, either a prospective one or one that has taken place and thus its turbulences came to defined the rest of the book. Marriage, under any circumstances, used to the biggest permanent change in life, and those the outlook or presence of one (or the absence of) were the source of compelling 19th century literature. How has it prevailed in the era of divorce and prenups? Eugenides introgues the readers' mind and essentially invites them to explore this through the story of Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell.

With two critically acclaimed titles under his belt, one of which won him the Pulitzer Prize, expectations weighed heavy on his latest work.I want to like this novel, I really do, but unfortunately Eugenides came short of meeting his own premises laid out at the start of the book. No deconstruction took place: although I did enjoy the references to established works on semiotics, Victorian lit and religious studies, they appeared pretentious; thrown at the reader to impress, hence made the story feel a little disjointed. The author also promises to take an alternative view of the world, suggested by the travels that one of the characters took. While Eugenides masterfully described the beauty of the world seen from the view of a young backpacker, the perspectives in the book didn't grow much, remained pretty much the tunnel vision that each of the characters started off with, which would prompt you to curse their stupidity and naivety under your breath as you read along.

Also, I had a real problem with the character's lack of depth. No matter how much you dress them up, the characters are just plain and predictable. With the exception of one, I won't say which one, who is a manic depressive. As a result, the prose is stunted and imagination is limited. It was difficult for me to develop any attachments and empathy to any of them, even to Madeleine, to whom I was hoping to be able to relate with the most. I anticipated surprises up the author's sleeves, but none came. You could easily box the characters into stereotypes: The Pretty Princess, the Mad Genius, the Comforting Friend, and so on. It's pretty disappointing given what I have heard about his previous two works (The main character of his Pulitzer winning book was a Hermaphrodite!).

The pace of the book was rather slow. Imagine a run: This would be a long, slow run on predominantly flat course with an small hill or two. There is a lot of inner dialogue with very little happening in the exterior. And if anything does happen, it is brushed off pretty quickly, bogged down by the observations of the individual characters that gives the impression that they aren't really analyzing the string of events but rather analyzing themselves in their usual self-absorbed manner.

Finally, the ending topped the list of disappointments. It was a surprisingly abrupt ending, which felt rushed and just a total anti climax. It's not the kind of ending that would leave you gaping for more (as in, a sequel). But it's the kind of ending that would make you feel wanting back the hours you had spent reading this book, wishing you never knew any of the characters. While this may sound harsh, there were some parts of the book that I truly enjoyed. Eugenides understanding of patholigical depression and mental illness care is amazing, as well as his acute observation of India and Western spiritual seekers were fascinating. But again, I feel the characters, story and ending makes a book. And in this case, they were massive let downs for me. Disappointing read, not recommended.
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Reading Progress

02/09/2012 page 64
15.0% "And it was during this period that Madeleine fully understood how the lover’s discourse was of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places."
02/10/2012 page 76
18.0% "In Madeleine’s face was a stupidity Mitchell had never seen before. It was the stupidity of all normal people. It was the stupidity of the fortunate and beautiful, of everybody who got what they wanted in life and so remained unremarkable."
02/11/2012 page 158
38.0% "He wanted women to love him, all women, beginning with his mother and going on from there. Therefore, whenever any woman got mad at him, he felt maternal disapproval crashing down upon his shoulders, as if he’d been a naughty boy."
02/12/2012 page 313
75.0% "Mitchell’s concern that he wasn’t coming up to the mark at Kalighat coexisted, oddly enough, with a surge of real religious feeling on his part. Much of the time in Calcutta he was filled with an ecstatic tranquillity, like a low-grade fever. His meditation practice had deepened. He experienced plunging sensations, as if moving at great speed. For whole minutes he forgot who he was. Outside in the streets, he tried,"

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