Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

It's hard to follow Middlesex. Practically anything that came from Jeffrey Eugenides' pen or computer or whatever was going to pale in comparison. And indeed, this isn't as good as Middlesex. But don't mistake that for not being good. The Marriage Plot may not reach those lofty heights, but it's still a solid read.

Madeleine is finishing university, having written her undergraduate thesis on "the marriage plot" - the Victorian/Regency novels that end in marriage, or talk about what happens after marriage. Her supervisor opines that novel writing went to shit after divorce was introduced, because if you can just leave, where's the drama in the story?

I think this book is trying to answer that question.

Leonard, Madeleine's erstwhile boyfriend, has been given a mental health diagnosis that means that he will probably struggle for the rest of his life. Does she stay with him? How? What responsibilities do each of them have to each other under the shadow of such an illness? Can you walk away? Should you? What does it mean if you do? How do you stick it out? Where do your responsibilities end?

While those two deal with those questions, the book is interspersed with sections about the third man in this triangle, Mitchell, who knew, just knew, Madeleine is the woman he's going to marry. From the first time he met her. Unfortunately, she's not that interested. So he takes off on a journey of self-discovery, and some of what he discovers are not comforting truths.

Much of this book is about immediate post-undergraduate life, and trying to find a place in the world, and dealing with adult issues without a safety net, and the ways in which you thought you were going to change the world might get sidetracked. Not every quest leads to comforting discoveries about the self. And sometimes life sucks and might continue to suck.

The book offers no easy answers to any of these issues, but I do enjoy that it raises them. It may not attain the lofty heights of achievement of Middlesex, but I'm glad I read it.

1 comment:

  1. It isn't the kind of novel Updike used to write. Don't get the wrong idea. But--and I stress this strongly--it may not be what you're used to. That should not, however, keep you from enjoying it. Because it is, at the end of the day, a novel to be enjoyed.
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