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. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner and college Darwinist – suddenly turns up in a seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus – who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange – resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they have learned. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
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? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Tara Mcgrath on 01-11-11
Not quite Middlesex but...
I loved both Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, and The Marriage Plot doesn't disappoint- however it isn't quite the intricate saga that Middlesex was.
Madelaine is about to graduate from Uni having studied English Lit and Language, in particular the novels of the 19th century which more often than not centre around the courting, love triangles and eventual marriage of their protagonists. She loses herself in a relationship with the 'wrong' guy who she idolises due to his incredible mind but who also unfortunately suffers from severe depression and mental illness. She in turn rejects the advances of the possibly 'right' guy, Mitchell, who indeed also has his problems and so unfolds a story of a modern love triangle. The book looks human psychology, the naivety and meaning of love, the search for spiritual enlightenment (is there such thing as an unselfish act?) and the stages and effects of mental illness.
I loved this book because it reminded me of my state of mind whilst at university and during my first proper relationship. I also loved the insight into each character, not one of them flawless or indeed even very likable but all three vulnerable and very real. It reminded me very much of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, just really great American Literature which has something to say about society in a very quiet and therefore genuine way.
And because a Audiobook is only as good as it's narrator, I would also have to comment that David Pittu was excellent and made a great book worth listening to.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Sallie on 31-05-12
Hooked but no thanks to the narration
For me it was nice to revisit the 80s in a part of the world I lived in for many years and I suspect that has a lot to do with that hook as I found myself instantly transported to familiar streets and places. It was my first experience of this writer and probably (subject to a different narrator) won't be the last. There is a quality to the writing which is absolutely excellent; the author engages all the senses from the stomach turning experiences of Mitchell volunteering with Mother Theresa to the less than fastidious Leonard's ratty apartment. His exploration of some of the themes, particularly mental illness, and its treatment in that time period was thought provoking. I found the way the backstory elements were woven into the narrative to be quite masterful. The plot though, was a little dull, and I did get to the point about 2/3 of the way through where I really couldn't have cared less what happened to most of the characters, particularly Madeleine.Towards the end I found myself wondering whether the author really liked them himself, although I suspect the narration didn't help here because the female characters sounded whiny, pretentious and irritating. I guess it is all a matter of personal taste.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Penni on 16-12-11
Better than TV
Would you listen to The Marriage Plot again? Why?
Probably, perhaps only the first half though to revisit the way ideas interact with story. It was beautifully paced and engaging though, I was pulled along by the narrative tension between the characters, but knowing the ending, I am not sure the novel would have the same thrall on a second listen.
What did you like best about this story?
I thought Eugenides did a remarkable job of capturing the urgency of that time in your life (about twenty), when everything feels so weighted and important, when it feels as though every decision you make shapes the person you are about to come, the poesis of self-making. I also really admired the way he blended narrative theory and classical storytelling.
What does David Pittu bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?
Oh, he is just brilliant! He sculpted each character out of nuance and diction, these people really came to live for me, it was like watching a movie. Perfectly paced. Beautifully read, never intrusive.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I rushed through it pretty quick!
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Amazon Customer on 17-08-12
Above average story/Below average reading
This is certainly not Eugenides' most unique book but he's such a good writer you still want to keep listening, even if the story is just a trumped up 80s nostalgia love triangle.
As for the reading, to put it lightly, character voicing is not Pittu's strong suit. The male characters all sounded like they just swallowed a hairball, and unfortunately Madeline sounded exactly like Candace from the TV show Portlandia (those who know the reference will understand). Essentially, the characters all sounded extremely one dimensional, which is a fairly large failing considering the whole book is about the subtleties and nuances in people and personality.
An easier reading of the book would probably have brought the sense of the story out more, especially since it is such a character heavy book, but I found myself struggling more and more to ignore Pittu's simple characterisations.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful