The Marriage Plot The Marriage Plot discussion


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Charles Why?
I see a lot of love and hate for this book. I was disappointed in it, myself. That said, though, I am not looking to start a flamefest. Just giving the love (and hate) discussions a home.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Why not explain why you were disappointed?

I thought it was okay. The cleverness of the premise was not matched by the ambition of the author. I didn't need the narrator to explain all the jokes to me and its neurotic impulse for everybody to join in on the joke left me cold. But, I still found the complex weaving of deconstruction and 19th century novels to be clever.


Charles I have learned not to put all my cards into the first post, as it sets the tone for the discussion (probably) more than it should. My disappointment came from the overly educated writing, and the constant name-dropping of the flat characters. That said, I have met a fair amount of college freshmen with similar know-it-all tendencies, but these aren't supposed to be freshmen, these are about-to-graduate seniors. Unless I missed something.

Plus, I believe Eugenides is a better writer than this book, by a mile, at least if he wanted to be. Lines like "there were better places for Thurston" were both too telling, and really kind of distasteful.

And I mean then there's the thesaurus style word choice, fact errors (I think one of the characters has a Moleskine notebook, before the brand existed) and the added level of pretence in filtering everything through Derridah and Semiotics courses.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

But the name-dropping, the Barthes, the Derrida, the semiotics, the deconstruction - that's the point of the novel! If you think the novel itself is pretentious (instead of the characters) you might have missed the point slightly.

Allow me to copy and paste from another thread on the very same book:

The title is already calling attention to the fact that there's a pre-existing structure to the plot. It's completely self-reflexive about the nature of 19th century fiction. In order to make the reader understand the structure of the plot they might not be familiar with, Eugenides has to call attention to other marriage plots. This makes the connection.

But then, Eugenides isn't merely rewriting a 19th century marriage plot. He's transposing the structure into the Eighties, when deconstruction and Derrida were really big.

The question is why? Well, deconstruction and Derrida are about différance and that the meaning of things are volatile. They're always changing.

The inclusion of Barthes is intensely specific because of The Death of the Author. A text isn't a puzzle with one solution, but a tissue of quotations of other texts.

That's the key right there. A text, any text, doesn't matter what, is a fabric made of other texts. So therefore, since Eugenides is already calling attention to the fact that The Marriage Plot is a fabric of other 19th century texts, then we know that using other texts helps the reader navigate the text.

Thus, the name-dropping is integral to the text's meaning.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Also I noticed you've organized the novel under your "stopped-reading" shelf. Am I to take from this that you haven't finished the novel?


chey I really enjoyed this novel. Prehaps people are comparing this book in regards to the virgin suicides ( which was AMAZING)... or maybe I'm not as smart as I thought I was..


Marc Nash It's to Eugenides endless credit that the 3 main characters, who in the cold light of day one might regard as utterly loathsome, self-important and absorbed, still carried me along during his narrative in an utterly transfixing way. In the hands of a lesser author, I would have hated this book I'm sure. The worst you can say about it perhaps, is that it's a bourgeois book, but then many literary titles are.


Marne Wilson Not every novel is for everybody, and a lot of how you read a book depends on the experiences you bring to it. I have a B.A. and an M.A. in English, so I've spent a lot of time with English majors and know the way they talk and behave. It seems to me that each of the three main characters is a fairly recognizable type one sees in English classes all the time. First we've got the good student who wants to do everything right and get A's on everything, but everyone else thinks is an insufferable stuck-up bitch. Then there's the "rebel" who clomps around in cowboy and/or combat boots with a bandana on his head, namedropping whatever scholar is most in vogue at the time, as if he's trying to prove that he's both the coolest and smartest person in the room at the same time. And then there's the person who loves literature for aesthetic reasons and goes around talking about truth and beauty all the time, but never really gets his or her nose out of a book long enough to experience the real thing. What all three types (and all the other English majors) have in common is that they analyze everything to death while using a kind of jargon that doesn't make any sense to somebody outside of the fold. (For example, instead of using the opening sentence I did for this paragraph, I could have just said "We are all situated.")

With my background, the book made perfect sense to me, and I feel that Eugenides is poking fun, in a gentle way, at the pretensions of all his characters. But if you come from a different kind of background, these subtleties will probably be lost on you, and you'll find the book itself to be pretentious.


Sandra Great analyses everyone. And I mean that sincerely.

When I read a book, it's purely for the story. I have no English background so I can not "read more" than just the characters and their situation. That said, I found the characters, their choices and results of their choices...in other words, LIFE in general, to feel real. I read this book as a coming of age story for 20-somethings. When you finally get to make some big decisions, all by your big grown-up self and also reap the rewards or repercussions of said choices. Hey, sometimes life is tough. Grow up. Move on.


Sandra Marc wrote: "It's to Eugenides endless credit that the 3 main characters, who in the cold light of day one might regard as utterly loathsome, self-important and absorbed, still carried me along during his narra..."

I agree! I was overwhelmingly turning the pages, even if I didn't want the protagonist to be my new best friend.


Gregory Rothbard Marne wrote: "Not every novel is for everybody, and a lot of how you read a book depends on the experiences you bring to it. I have a B.A. and an M.A. in English, so I've spent a lot of time with English majors..."

I loved Marne's review of the types; maybe that is why I felt it was the best description of someone with manic depression I have read. Or maybe that was something I wanted to read so I found it in the text. The book is one that was excellent in a number of ways. I need to read the Virgin Suicides though.


Gregory Rothbard Sandra wrote: "Marc wrote: "It's to Eugenides endless credit that the 3 main characters, who in the cold light of day one might regard as utterly loathsome, self-important and absorbed, still carried me along dur..."

Another discussion thread asked, does one have to like the character to be able to invest time into the book. Well there has to be something redeeming about all three characters, doesn't there?


Gerhard Beyond the 'literary' aspects of this novel, there is the theme of dealing with a manic depressive partner in a relationship. Leonard is not a very sympathetic character, but his plight is very real, and it is heartbreaking what Madeleine endures in dealing with this.

Also, Mitchell's attempts to 'find himself' in India by volunteering in a hospice, and testing his limits of endurance, was equally interesting.

Eugenides is very much interested in the limits that people can be pushed to, and the compromises we have to live with in the end.


message 14: by Vanessa (last edited Nov 05, 2012 07:16AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Vanessa Stone I actually enjoyed all the discussions of literature, but that was about all that I enjoyed. I never connected with any of the characters, and I feel that the plot was less than intriguing, just sad. It was a big disappointment for me after Middlesex. It wasn't bad writing, but not great story telling. The plot just didn't interest me. The connection of the Austen marriage plot to his characters in the modern marriage plot didn't work for me. It didn't define a marriage plot in the modern era for me. I felt like he was recapturing a memory of his college days in those discussions, but I didn't feel like the novel revealed anything unique or thought provoking. It left me feeling depressed about how miserable these three young people were already in their lives. I don't need to be uplifted in a novel, but if I don't have that I need it to stimulate something new in my consciousness. I've known more than one bipolar person, it was just painful to rehash that in detail.


message 15: by Ralu (last edited Nov 05, 2012 11:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ralu Cercel I actually liked the connection with the Austen marriage plot, as well as all the literary references made in the novel. I felt that the majority of them were justified and well embedded in the overall fabric of the story line.
I'm not the biggest fan of the book, but it left me thinking and pondering on some issues. The issue of manic depression was interestingly treated in relation with Madeline and how it affected her role in her relationship with Leonard. I liked this part best, as opposed to the travellings of Mitchell, who, I think, had the potential of being a more interesting character if Eugenides had put his mind to it.
Don't be too harsh in criticizing the novel, Eugenides still has room to grow as a writer and I am sure he will. Yes, Middlesex was a great book and it is hard to write something as good or better. But then again, Middlesex's topic had a lot to do with its appeal, you'll have to admit to that.


Susannah Ewing I was a lit major, and still read voraciously. I saw and appreciated the references and the satire (it probably helped to have recently re-read several of those 19th-cent novels) in Eugenides' style, but still felt disappointed by the book. I guess I just loved Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides so much that this was a bit of a let-down. However, I am thinking about giving The Marriage Plot another go. About 12 months after the first reading, if I am not deep into something else, I'll pick it up again.


Lucinda K I have a PhD in English and loved the description of the "types" of characters Marne posted in September. I got my degree in 2000, and those "types" were still alive and well then and were still acting in versions of the way these characters acted even when they were PhD candidates. I talked to a few of my mentors who would have been undergraduates at about the same time as these characters, and they felt that the "theory craze" and the outlooks these characters have on their post-graduation lives were accurate and very funny. I loved the book, but if I hadn't known anything about the theorists and ideas mentioned in it, I think that I'd have hated it and felt as if I was on the outside of some inside joke.

I was a little let down because The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex were much better, and I waited forever for this book to come out and blow me away. That it didn't do.


Sunny Shore I liked this book....read it a while ago. However, I think everyone was expecting another Middlesex. It didn't deserve to get bashed. It was an interesting story with great characters.


Lucinda K I've found that many authors have only one Middlesex-esque book in their careers, and everyone sits around waiting for the next book to break ground the way that one did. People probably really feel that way about Eugenidea because, thus far, it seems as if he goes 8-10 years between books, so that makes people think he's toiling away at a masterpiece and also makes them impatient.

But, even though I can see why some people don't like or "get" this book the way I did, I can't see why it was bashed so much either. By the time I got to read it last month, many people had made it sound as if it would be unreadable: not as if it might simply be the wrong book for some readers, but as if it was awful beyond belief. I can't see that at all.

I've heard a lot of criticism of the writing style. True, there was no moment in this book like the ending of The Virgin Suicides and no witty, contemplative narrator like Cal in Middlesex. But I thought it was a well-written book, and I'm usually a real nitpicker about stylistic issues.


message 20: by Kim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kim I'm also a Lit person, and I do agree that The Marriage Plot is spot on about the "types" that populate English classes, but that just wasn't enough to sustain my continued interest in most of the characters or their stories. After a while, it started to read like horn-tooting more than it did satire.

I think that what disappointed me was that I had read Middlesex and Virgin Suicides and came away from both with a sense that Eugenides was an author who very empathetically crafted complex and flawed characters. In the Marriage Plot, though, I didn't feel that same empathy or sympathy. It felt something more like condescension in the rendering of the characters than I did anything else (especially in terms of Madeleine and Leonard), and that made it hard for me to become invested in the characters or their exploits.

I read a short excerpt of the novel in the New Yorker before i knew it was part of a novel, and I think that short piece works better for me than the whole novel does. It's shorter, just as biting, and honest.


message 21: by Lucinda (last edited Feb 23, 2013 03:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lucinda K I didn't know about that piece, Kim. Thanks for posting the link.

I can see why the novel would disappoint, even though I enjoyed it. There's nothing here in the Leonard-Madeleine-Mitchell relationships that matches, let's say, the relationship between Cal and the Obscure Object in Middlesex.

But I did find myself caring about the characters even as I was snickering at them a bit. It worked best for me when I took my attentions away from Madeleine and focused more on Leonard and Mitchell. For some reason, I just couldn't connect with her the way I could with the other two. I found myself disliking her at times.


Gerhard I read a suggestion somewhere that the character of Leonard Bankhead, and his struggle with manic depression, is (loosely) based on the writer David Foster Wallace. Interesting to read it in that light, though Leonard is not a very sympathetic character, despite his affliction.


Lucinda K That's interesting. I hadn't heard that. But I don't know much about Wallace. I read Infinite Jest last fall, and I saw much to admire in it, even though I found it to be a bit of an uphill struggle at many points.

I had sympathy for Leonard in his struggle to hide his illness and to escape the side effects of the medication, but that could come from my own experiences with mental illness and psychotropic drugs. My heart went out to him when he was afraid to do things in front of people because he might twitch or they might see his hands shake.


message 24: by Kim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kim Gerhard wrote: "I read a suggestion somewhere that the character of Leonard Bankhead, and his struggle with manic depression, is (loosely) based on the writer David Foster Wallace. Interesting to read it in that l..."

I didn't read that until after I'd finished the novel, but while i was reading it, I kept thinking that Leonard sounded an awful lot like David Foster Wallace, from his physical description (down to the bandana!) and his literary/theoretical bent. I don't know if it was deliberate on Eugenides's part, but if it was, it felt kind of like a cheap shot.The similarities bothered me and kept me at arms reach the same way the constant theoretical name dropping did, and for the same reasons, even if the narration did allow a little bit more sympathy for Leonard than the semioticians. I get that it was satire, and leonard is a character in his own right, but if came off a bit like literary sour-grapes. I mean, I'd rather sit down with the Virgin Suicides or Middlesex before I EVER reread Infinite Jest, but there is no denying the fact that David Foster Wallace is one of the most influential American writers of the late 20th/early 21st century. Which is why it's probably a good thing (for Eugenides, in terms of inviting comparison) that there is room for interpretation in how close of a depiction of Wallace Leonard really is.


Gerhard Kim wrote: "Gerhard wrote: "I read a suggestion somewhere that the character of Leonard Bankhead, and his struggle with manic depression, is (loosely) based on the writer David Foster Wallace. Interesting to r..."

Yes, I only read about that after I finished the novel as well. It'd be interesting to find out if Eugenides has been asked anything about this, or if he has made any comments himself in this regard. Personally I do not think any comparison was intended.


Charles I don't think so either. I think the manic/depressive is an English major cliche, it just happens that Wallace fit it to the letter.


Rosella Gerhad, I've read several interviews with Eugnides which addressed the similarties between Leonard and David Foster Wallace. In all of these interviews he explains that these similarities are merely concidental. A few times he even confesses that he doens't even see that many of them.
Charles, what do you mean when you say "the manic/depressive is an English major cliche."


Samantha Thomas I really wanted to like this book, but it just did nothing for me. I have a B.A. in English and I'm in my mid-20's, but the book just never delivered on anything. I didn't care about any of the characters and I never even felt that I got the marriage plot I was promised.


message 29: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Nash Samantha wrote: "I really wanted to like this book, but it just did nothing for me. I have a B.A. in English and I'm in my mid-20's, but the book just never delivered on anything. I didn't care about any of the cha..."

you weren't promised a marriage plot. The book is a look at how a mere literary trope- that of the marriage plot- may or may not reflect real life and real people - only of course they are not real people, they are themselves fictional characters.


Marne Wilson It seems that most of the people who were disappointed with this novel are comparing it unfavorably with Eugenides' other works. Maybe the reason I liked it as much as I did is that I haven't read anything else by Eugenides yet, and so I was able to approach it with fresher eyes. (And I must say, after reading so many glowing comments about them, I really can't wait to read Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides. If only my public library would get them!)


message 31: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Nash Marne wrote: "It seems that most of the people who were disappointed with this novel are comparing it unfavorably with Eugenides' other works. Maybe the reason I liked it as much as I did is that I haven't read..."

they are both excellent reads


Spatch Logan I came to this after The Virgin suicides, and that probably coloured my expectations, but although The Marriage Plot was serviceable, I was ultimately quite disappointed by it.

- As others have mentioned, the characters were recognisable "types" of undergraduates you will often see in humanities classes, but there was painfully little beyond the stereotype to hook the reader. I came away annoyed half the time, and the other half wondering if I had just been watching "Dawson's Creek".

- There was a decent stab at representing bipolar disorder, but this has been better characterised in many other books, and it disturbs me slightly that Leonard was depicted as possibly the most unsympathetic character in the novel, with the least internal dialogue. I think there are ways of depicting complexity within mental health, but this in many ways felt like a step backwards.

- The India scenes had a lot of potential for commentary about the American backpacker trying to find themselves/bathing lepers/ "do india", but it failed to spark any real insight or commentary.

That's not to say there were a lot of good parts to the novel, especially in the earlier parts around the graduation scene. I can't help being left with the feeling that that this could have been so much more.


Annensky I must be the only person here who actually fell in love with the three main characters in "The Marriage Plot," and cared passionately about what happened to each of them. So I must myself be a throwback to an earlier epoch, the epoch when we still gave a shit about what happened to the people we were reading about, the ideas they embraced, the principles they stood for, the emotions they endured. Back in the days when characters in novels were flawed human beings and not perfect, politically correct & thus easily decipherable entities. Etc., etc. Tiresome, I know, this attachment to the narrative as narrative and not as the critic's hunting ground for faults in the writer, who, after all, created this marvelous text for our perusal and pleasure (--or not).


message 34: by Benjamin (last edited Jan 17, 2014 04:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Benjamin Banks I think there was one paragraph alone that references Elvis Costello, "Tainted Love" and Members Only ? jackets...seemed almost to parody a novel set in the 80's and involving semiotics? I could be wrong. I still enjoyed the book. Good portrait of manic-depression and what a devastating illness it is. Left me thinking, do liberal arts students graduate, back pack through Europe and India because they really want to and value doing so or because it is part of books like this one? Why did I do so myself? I grew up in a neighborhood where the generation before me, after they got there, didn't leave their block if they didn't have to...


Celia Charles wrote: "Why?
I see a lot of love and hate for this book. I was disappointed in it, myself. That said, though, I am not looking to start a flamefest. Just giving the love (and hate) discussions a home."



I read it in the last six months but can hardly remember it. So it did not arouse enough interest in me to even remember it, so love it or hate it? I am ambivalent ...which says it all really.


message 36: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo Vidler I loved Middlesex and was a bit disappointed reading this as I didn't feel that it was as good. I still enjoyed it more than many other books I have read though.


Annensky I found "Middlesex" a pretentious and self-conscious novel, and couldn't finish it, I felt so embarrassed for its author, who was clearly trying too hard. "The Marriage Plot" is much better. At least I gave a damn about the characters. True, the style is uneven at times in this novel, but it was far worse in "Middlesex," where the style was actually intrusive & inhibiting.


Susan Anne wrote: "I must be the only person here who actually fell in love with the three main characters in "The Marriage Plot," and cared passionately about what happened to each of them. So I must myself be a thr..."

I agree. I really enjoyed this book and the characters. Also, I agree with Gerhard (message 13) about how interesting and informative the part about manic depression was.


message 39: by Fred (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred As an MA in English in the 90s, I loved the book. I read Middlesex after this, and also enjoyed it very much. They are very different books to be sure. Eugenides is not like Stephen King whose brand is to produce genre-consistent reading matter for fans.


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