The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage PlotEven though I have read some very mixed reviews for ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides, I have still been really looking forward to reading it for months.  I thought it would be appropriate to read it now given that I had my graduation ceremony recently and this is the event where the novel starts.  Set in 1982, the story follows Brown University student Madeline Hanna, an English major writing a thesis on ‘the marriage plot’ of 19th century novels and the love triangle between herself, Mitchell Grammaticus and Leonard Bankhead before and after graduation.  (Unlike Madeline, my graduation day simply involved a lot of standing around in overheated rooms, posing for photographs I didn’t want taken and trying not to trip over my robes.  But whatever.)

The complaint that I’ve heard most about ‘The Marriage Plot’ was that the characters are not interesting enough for the reader to really care about what happens to them.  And it’s true that they are a bit… meh… (for want of a better word).  In particular, it is difficult to see why Mitchell pines after Madeline, especially when she mostly treats him like a doormat, as she doesn’t seem to have any likeable or even defining features.  Again, I didn’t truly believe in her relationship with Leonard either and I have slightly mixed feelings about Eugenides’s depiction of mental illness in the novel – while he gives the reader a good insight into what manic depression entails, I found the ending of the story quite unsatisfying given what the characters go through.  I still think Eugenides’s writing itself is exceptionally good though and the way in which the setting moves back and forth in time is structured very cleverly.  Having written a very painful essay about Julia Kristeva and semiotics earlier in the year, I also appreciated the academic satire in the book (at least I hope it was satire).

I really liked ‘Middlesex’ but have yet to read ‘The Virgin Suicides’.  From what I’ve heard about ‘The Virgin Suicides’ (which is only Good Things), I think it might be just as well that I read ‘The Marriage Plot’ first and mostly enjoyed it, as I might have hated it if I had read ‘The Virgin Suicides’ first, completely loved it as lots of people seem to and then found ‘The Marriage Plot’ to be a big disappointment.  As it is, I liked ‘The Marriage Plot’ but didn’t love it.


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10 responses to “The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. I read this novel a few months ago and came away from it with mixed feelings. I liked the ideas that the author presented and found the character development interesting, but the characters themselves ran from unlikeable to bland. He supposedly wrote this as an Austen update, and I don’t think it works on that level.


  2. Oh, I’m so annoyed! Ever since Middlesex I’ve been dying to read something new from him. Really loved that book. Virgin Suicides is also quite good, but I didn’t think as good as Middlesex. And it’s taken him a really long time to write this one hasn’t it? Sigh.


  3. I don’t know how you manage to read and review so quickly. I can barely keep up! Great review!


  4. agree with comments above. such a let-down after the awesome Middlesex. not a bad book, just poor in comparison.


  5. erdeaka

    such a shame, Eugenides is a great author actually.


  6. I’ve been meaning for years to read Middlesex, but I feel like it would leave me emotionally exhausted. Loved the Virgin Suicides, though. I think I’ll put Middlesex on my to-read list.


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  9. jolly2012

    The Marriage Plot was mostly a disappointment, esp. when compared to Middlesex. I think Middlesex has ruined any chance of Jeffrey Eugenides writing anything nearly as dramatic. If Middlesex didn’t exist would we still be so down on The Marriage Plot? By the way, Julia Kristeva rocks but, I still have to read her chapters 2 or 3 times before I really get what she’s writing about. Probably best to know a bit about psychoanalysis before reading her. Haven’t read her Semiotics yet but, will keep it in mind as an intellectual torture experience. Great blog and lovely post!


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