Reading Into It: The Marriage Plot

by Rachel on October 25, 2011

First, some background:

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer-prize winning novel about an amazing family and the journey of a gene, is one of my favorite books.  I read it about once a year and fall in love all over again. Actually I don’t even read it so much as devour it. As I’m reading, I experience the feeling of wanting to read it as fast as possible and not wanting it to end. (There should be a word for that feeling.)

When I saw Eugenides had another book coming out. I was so excited, I had it sent to my Kindle the day it came out.

For those of you who love Middlesex as much as I do, I’ll just break the bad news to you now: The Marriage Plot is nowhere near as good as Middlesex. Now that’s fine, because not many books will ever be that good, and I didn’t really expect it to be. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how different The Marriage Plot would be.

Not necessarily bad different. Just different.

The title of the book refers to the main character Madeleine’s honor’s thesis, which she was working on just before the beginning of the book. The book opens on the day of her graduation from Brown University in the early 1980s; she wakes up with a hangover and lot of regret. From there, we meet Leonard, her brilliant ex-boyfriend and Mitchell, a good friend who has been in love with her for much of college.

The book is, most simply, a love triangle, but it doesn’t read like one at all. “Love triangle” makes me think of that god-awful movie “Something Borrowed,” or perhaps an episode of Jerry Springer. The love triangle was to this book like the pyramid is to the dollar bill: small, tucked away, and just not the main thing you think about. I got so swept up in the characters — the book is told from all three main characters’ points of view — and their issues that I sort of stopped seeing them as related and just felt like I was reading their individual stories. It wasn’t until the end — and oh, what a nice ending! — that it all sort of clicked for me.

Maybe it’s just the fact that I was reading it on the Kindle, and so I lost the feel of the actual book — the tone set by the cover and the description on the back — but I kept forgetting I was reading a Jeffrey Eugenides book. The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking it was a Jonathan Franzen novel. Again, that’s not a bad thing because both Freedom and The Corrections are two of the best books I’ve read in a long time, but it was sort of odd. But much like Franzen’s books, I felt like this book was a lot of prose. The prose is good and entertaining and makes you think, so that’s not bad or anything, but there just wasn’t as much dialogue or action as some novels. It was — and again, I don’t mean this in a bad way — dense.

That density, combined with the main plots, meant the book book isn’t exactly an easy read. A lot of the plot relates to the three main characters’ classes and studies…and, unfortunately, some of their classes and studies were just way over my head. I had to slow down and re-read things, taking as much as I could from contextual clues. Ultimately, it didn’t really interfere with my understanding of the plot or the characters, but I do think it’s worth mentioning; reading this, I was glad that the Kindle could link me to a Wikipedia page at any given time.

I know this will be a popular book club book and I think it’s a great choice for book clubs; it’s a hard book for me to really generalize, but the major themes and situations presented are ones I’d love to discuss with other people who have read it.

On the whole, I’d definitely recommend it; perhaps not in my typical OMG OBSESSED way that I’d recommend some other books, but then again, not every book is going to be my favorite book. I definitely think it’s worth reading and I’d love to hear what other people who have read it/are reading it think of it!

Oh and by the way, I’m now back to my standard non-fiction, currently reading Mary Roach’s latest book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. Mary Roach never lets me down and this book is LOL-funny and so interesting. I’ll probably write about it in a couple weeks, so if anyone is looking for a fun/smart/interesting/fast read, check it out and then we can discuss!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura Georgina October 25, 2011 at 10:43 am

OMG, did you know that I JUST started reading it last night? (Not to mention that I wanted to read Middlesex forever and was reminded of that, and actually went and got it, when you mentioned it once on the blog).

I’m only about twenty pages in and I agree with you. I’ll be turning pages fast, but not in the same way as for Middlesex. I also don’t think I’ll sob for twenty minutes when it’s over like I did for Middlesex, but since most of my reading happens in the middle of the night now, that’s more than OK with me.

If you like Middlesex and that kind of sprawling family epic…. Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? That’s MY “re-read once a year” book (though Middlesex is getting re-read in a few months, I just know it).


2 Erin (Travel Eat Repeat) October 25, 2011 at 10:53 am

Agreed about Middlesex — one of those ‘OMG you have to read this!’ books that I passed on to friends and family. Have The Marriage Plot on hold at the library so we’ll see how that one goes…

Mary Roach is also awesome but I think Stiff is by far her best. So fascinating — who knew?


3 Rachel October 25, 2011 at 11:21 am

I agree, none of her other books are as good as Stiff!


4 Howdy from NYC October 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm

My book club is reading Marriage Plot this month! I’m only about 50 pages in, but so far so good. I haven’t read Middlesex yet, but it’s been on my “to read” list for ages now. I finally put it on hold at the library so I can see what the hype is all about (and fall in love).


5 Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic October 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for this review! I’m looking for new books to read this fall. I also love Middlesex and I agree with you, there should be a word for that feeling when you just want to read and read a book! Devour is good though :)


6 Rosamund October 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I haven’t read Middlesex but I might give it a go as I’ve loved everything else you’ve recommended, and I shall pick this one up as well.

Have you any Donna Tartt? I never really got into The Little Friend but The Secret History was great. I would also heartily recommend Wolf Hall as you don’t seem to be averse to vast tomes! (The Kindle is so great for that – I love that mahoosive great books still fit in my handbag.)


7 Natalie October 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Sold! Haven’t read Middlesex, but just bought it off of le Amazon…


8 cindylu October 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I adored Middlesex. Without knowing too much about it other than the back of the book blurb, I jumped in to it. My friend highly recommended it. Anyway, I like a lot of different types of novels, but Middlesex had the epic immigrant story spanning a few immigrations. I’m partial to those, even if it’s not central to the novel (see: Junot Diaz’s “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and Sandra Cisneros’ “Caramelo”).

Based on Middlesex, I was eager to read The Marriage Plot. I didn’t even read a summary about it, just jumped in so for a while I was reading and wondering what it was supposed to be about. I agree that the many academic references — um, semiotics — gets to be a bit too much. I wish I could talk about that with my English PhD friends, but they’d likely confuse me more. I think if I was a bit more of a literature buff, I’d be able to situate The Marriage Plot amongst its peers and see how it’s advancing or subverting other canonical works of English literature. I’m half way through. I miss shorter chapters and a plot that gets going a little sooner.


9 EricaLS October 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm

AHHH I almost bought this at Costco (because Euginedes is my favorite author) but then realized I could get it on my Kindle. I’m super interested and this made me want to read it more, but I will go in knowing it’s dense.

Also, I have to agree about Middlesex: one of the best books I’ve read. Ever.


10 angie October 26, 2011 at 9:11 am

Thanks a lot for sharing this review..I am looking forward to read the new book..I cant wait to see this!


11 Karoline October 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I’m in the middle of Marriage Plot and really enjoying it…I still haven’t read Middlesex! What I love about Marriage Plot so far is that I can see a part of myself or some part of a situation I have been in within each of the characters. Despite the time period (although how different would their relationships be if they could text?), it all seems present for some reason.


12 TeriLyn [a foodie stays fit] October 29, 2011 at 8:22 am

I’ve never read Middlesex but just downloaded it after reading this post! :)


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