People are certainly getting their knickers in a twist about The Marriage Plot. I had both Middlesex and The Marriage Plot sitting on my Kindle, waiting like treats to be savoured (fellow readers, whose opinions I trust, had talked up Eugenides and although I have read The Virgin Suicides, it was many years ago). As a week at the beach stretched before me, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start on Eugenides – should I have opened Middlesex first? Perhaps.
The Marriage Plot was fine (‘fine’ in a satisfactory way, as opposed to ‘fine’ in remarkable way). There were bits I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the Austen layer – the whole ‘Pride and Prejudice-on-a-collage-campus’ theme made for good reading. I also loved the fact that the main character, Madeleine, loved books and reading.
“She wanted a book to take her places she couldn’t get to herself. She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it.”
The story is about a love triangle between Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. Although told from three different perspectives, the text is slightly weighted toward the character of Madeleine, whose university experience is perfectly described with short asides about parties, classes and love affairs.
“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. Thus, in the weeks after this exchange with Whitney, Madeleine began hearing people saying “Derrida”.”
“Leonard did sound a little nervous. That wasn’t good. Madeleine didn’t like nervous guys. Nervous guys were nervous for a reason. Up untl now Leonard had seemed more the tortured type than the nervous type. Tortured was better.”
There are so many gems dotted throughout the book which remind you of the fact that a) the book is set in America and b) it’s essentially set in the modern day (otherwise, you could swear you were in Regency or Victorian England).
“Leonard remembered what it felt like to be a Little Leaguer and hit a perfect pitch. That was the beginning of his recovery. Just to be able to remember that, once upon a time, happieness had been as simple as that.”
“She fantasized about breaking up with Leonard, moving to New York, about getting an athletic boyfriend who was simple and happy.” (Isn’t that marvellous?!)
But…. But… Blah. I could have done with a little less to-ing and fro-ing. I could have done with a bit less about Mitchell’s spiritual journey (which didn’t seem genuine to me) and a bit less about Leonard’s lab work. Oddly, a quote from the book itself almost sums up my feelings about The Marriage Plot –
“The experience of watching Leonard get better was like reading certain difficult books. It was like plowing through late James, or the pages about agrarian reform in Anna Karenina, until you suddenly got to a good part again, which kept on getting better and better until you were so enthralled that you were almost grateful for the previous dull stretch because it increased your eventual pleasure.”
If you took out the extremes of ‘enthralled’ and ‘dull’, you get to where I’m at with The Marriage Plot.
Read this book with a plate of cucumber sandwiches (although they needn’t be as fancy as these) – delicate sandwiches will match the plot’s prim and proper undertones.
3/5 – it was all a little sedate (even though that should have been perfectly fine whilst sitting on the beach).