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The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: 1001 Book Review


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
First published: 2011
Reviewed by: Jen & Book Worm
Find it here: The Marriage Plot

Synopsis (from Amazon): Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce?

It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned. Jeffrey Eugenides creates a new kind of contemporary love story in “his most powerful novel yet” (Newsweek

Jen’s Review: 5 stars
I loved this book for a variety of reasons. It was well-written with a blend of humor, empathy, and psychological insight that I found impressive. What Eugenides has done with this novel is perfectly capture the atmosphere of an Ivy League school and it’s alums in the 1980s. In some ways Eugenides mocks the pretentiousness of the Ivy league college environment and forces his characters to face up to the reality of life outside of books.

“College wasn’t like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity.”

The book is rife with both well-known and obscure literary references. Fiction and literature often blends with the realities of the characters’ lives. Madeline, the protagonist is a romantic with visions of love colored by the books she is studying for her senior thesis. When she leaves the comfort of Brown University, she learns that true love isn’t really the way it is depicted in her books. All the young people featured in the book face similar challenges as they learn to reconcile the ideals of college with the possibilities of the real world. The Marriage Plot is intelligent, fun to read, and covers a variety of themes including relationships, mental illness, and growing up.

“She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.”

Book Worm’s Review: 3 stars
I liked this book, however, unlike Jen, I didn’t love it. I liked the characters, I liked the storyline, and I liked the ending, despite it being a bit abrupt. The writing is solid and there are some serious issues that are handled well and in heartbreaking detail. The 3 central characters learn about themselves, about life in the real world (the world outside of college), and how life is not what you expect it to be especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a romance story, as well as to those who enjoy classic literature. It is fun playing spot the literary references.

As you can see, I liked the book. So why only 3 stars? As you probably already know, sometimes it’s the timing of when you read a book that influences how you feel about it. I read this during a stressful period  – in the midst of a home construction project — the first timing problem. The second timing problem was that I read it straight after reading my favourite book of the year and compared to that I found this average, hence the rating.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Which one of us do you agree with? Have you read any of his other books? Which ones do you recommend?

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy it here: The Marriage Plot