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