Book Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

416 pages

The Marriage Plot opens on Brown’s graduation day in 1982.  Madeleine Hanna is one of the students graduating, and when the book opens you realize that she is at an important point in her life but you’re unsure of the circumstances.  Slowly, the facts emerge and a love triangle of sorts is revealed.  You have Mitchell Grammaticus, who is a more introspective character.  He has been in love with Madeleine for awhile but his devotion is unrequited so he leaves for India after graduation with a lot of questions.

We eventually realize that Madeleine’s sorrow on her graduation is due to her breakup with Leonard Bankhead.  Leonard is a philosophical guy who has dealt with his own demons for years.  He suffers from severe clinical depression, the magnitude of which Madeleine does not realize right away.

The Marriage Plot follows Leonard, Madeleine and Mitchell for months after their graduation.  It’s such a dense novel and I couldn’t really determine my own feelings towards the characters.  My gut told me that I was rooting for Mitchell and Madeleine to get together; for her to unearth an undying love for Mitchell.  I think this is due to the fact that I was very drawn to Mitchell.  He seemed so sensitive and caring and he didn’t have the issues that Leonard had.

I really struggled with Leonard.  I felt awful for him.  I have never seen depression portrayed in such an ugly, hurtful way, so I guess that’s to say that I never realized how truly damaging depression can be.  I struggled with The Marriage Plot because I wanted Madeleine to forget Leonard and move on, and what kind of person did that make me? At times I thought Madeleine was incredibly stupid for not cutting her losses, but if you’re in love with someone, you’re supposed to stick by them, through better or worse, so in the end I couldn’t fault her for giving everything to her relationship with Leonard.  Maybe that’s the romantic in me.

I fought so hard with The Marriage Plot when I first started it.  It wasn’t an easy book for me to engage with, and I was unsure of whether I would appreciate it.  Once I got into the meat of it, I was able to relax a little bit and allow the story to take control.  The burning question: did I enjoy it as much as The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex? It was certainly more of a struggle for me than it was for the first two, but I am finding it hard to compare the three.  They are all so different from one another that it’s like apples and oranges.

The Marriage Plot was one of my most anticipated novels of 2011 and I am glad I stuck with it because despite my initial reservations, it ended up resonating with me.

Other Reviews:

things mean a lot


Fizzy Thoughts

Farm Lane Books Blog

Bibliophile by the Sea

I received a copy of this book as a blog win from Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.  Thanks Diane!

22 Responses

  1. It sounds as though we had opposite problems with this book – I enjoyed it initially, but then struggled with it and you were the reverse. It is one of those books that grows on you with time. I think I enjoy it a lot more now than when I’d finished it. I still think Middlesex is the best though 🙂

  2. I am going to have the chance to listen to this one on audio very soon, and am so excited about it! I have long been a fan of the author, and just loved Middlesex, but this one sounds very different. There seems to be something very cerebral, but also emotional about this one. Great review today. I can’t wait to see what I think!

  3. I have this one, and I really want to read it soon. I’m not expecting too much, and I loved Middlesex.

  4. My book club is talking about reading this one. It sounds like it would create great discussion, but I wonder how many of them would actually finish the book.

    • I am glad I didn’t recommend this one for my book club because I don’t see any of them finishing it. Longer books are usually not a good choice when it comes to my book club!

  5. I have this one on my stacks, and can’t wait to start reading it. But I know that I’ll need to focus primarily on this book when I begin…thanks for sharing.

  6. I’m going to tackle this one, but I may read Middlesex first. I already own a copy of Middlesex and have been meaning to read it for quite some time. I’ve never read anything of Eugenides and I’ve had several other people recommend not starting with The Virgin Suicides.

  7. I had the same experience with Middlesex when I read it–tough to get into and grappled with it for a long time but in the end I liked it. I recently picked up Virgin Suicides (saw the movie YEARS ago), so I’ll read that before picking this one up. I know this one was highly anticipated–sometimes that’s hard to live up to!

  8. I’m so on the fence about this one — I liked The Virgin Suicides but haven’t been interested in Middlesex at all — so I’m not sure this one is a good fit for me. The love triangle-in-the-80s thing kind of bores me but there’s such enthusiasm for it in the end, I feel lame for being such a judger!

  9. I’ve been struggling about whether to read this or not. The plot — when I hear it described — doesn’t always sound good to me. But I adored Middlesex … but then again I couldn’t stand The Virgin Suicides. Then a kind blogger sent me their ARC of it and It took the pain out of deciding. I’m glad that, in the end, it worked for you.

  10. Funny, I had a hard time getting into Middlesex. Have started it twice, but can’t seem to read more than 100 pages. Everyone else seems to love it. Don’t know if I’ll get to The Marriage Plot.

  11. I went into the experience of reading this book with no expectations (but then I haven’t read anything else by Eugenides). I very much enjoyed this book, and that was a very pleasant surprise. There were some parts that drug for me (mainly the India section), but I thought the writing was superb, and the characterization of depression accurate from my experiences of being around friends and relatives with serious clinical depression and/or bipolar disorder.

    • I agree that he did a wonderful job with Leonard’s depression. I am sure depression has been touched on millions of times in literature but it never seemed real to me the way it did with this book.

  12. I’m so happy I caught your review and that you got a chance to read this one. I agree this one is very different for Virgin Suicides or (my favorite – Middlesex), but I did enjoy them all in different ways.

  13. I wonder how I would feel about this book since I am not much of a romantic. I loved Middlesex so much though that I really need to give another Eugenides a chance.

  14. I had similar thoughts about Madeleine and Leonard. One minute I was all “drop him like a hot potato” and then the next I felt bad, because she loved him. It’s funny how I seem to forgive more in a fictional character (if she had left him), but also be highly critical over stuff that I’d be more understanding of in real life (Leonard’s problems). If that makes sense.

  15. Hmm… I feel a little afraid to read this in case I don’t love it! I was worried with Middlesex too and ended up loving that. This sounds sort of heartbreaking!

  16. I’m so excited about this book! Hopefully I can get my hands on a copy of this book soon. I’ll have to remember to curb my enthusiasm just a bit though. I can definitely see why you would struggle with this book at the beginning and I can see myself doing the same. Glad you stuck with it though.

  17. […] Reviews: Shelf Love | Reviews by Lola | nomadreader | Fizzy Thoughts | Forever Overhead | Caribousmom […]

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