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The Marriage Plot [Hardcover]

Jeffrey Eugenides
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Oct 2011

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.” Anthony Trollope

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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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition edition (11 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007441290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007441297
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 163,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides -- winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Middlesex -- was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1960. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993, and has since been translated into fifteen languages and made into a major motion picture. His second novel, Middlesex, was an international bestseller. Jeffrey Eugenides is the recipient of many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and The National Foundation for the Arts, a Whiting Writers' Award, and the Harold D. Vursell Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been a Fellow of the Berliner Künstlerprogramm of the DAAD and of the American Academy in Berlin. Jeffrey Eugenides lives in Berlin.

Product Description


"Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize–winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel--and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel."--Publishers Weekly

"A stunning novel—erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships... Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists."--Kirkus Reviews

"With this tightly, immaculately self-contained tale set upon pillars at once imposing and of dollhouse scale, namely, academia (“College wasn’t like the real world,” Madeleine notes) and the emotions of the youngest of twentysomethings, Eugenides realizes the novel whose dismantling his characters examine."--Booklist

"Eugenides’s superb third novel is his most mature to date, the work of an author who has achieved a new gravity after the audacious brilliance of his earlier work... Eugenides looks poised to become a writer on a par with Updike and Cheever as an anatomist of contemporary American matters."--Stephen Amidon, Sunday Times

"Being Eugenides, the book is immensely readable, funny and heartfelt with instantly beguiling writing that springs effortlessly back and forth over the years’ events."--Daily Telegraph

"A marvellous, compulsive storyteller, richly allusive, he reminds us that while love may not always be a triumph, it follows its own wayward course to the end."--Sunday Telegraph

"Erudite, smart and entertaining."--Daily Mail

"...powerful and all consuming. Forget the hearts and flowers; this is a challenging and intellectual novel about life and the intricate human relationships it weaves."--Express

"Nobody is going to accuse Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel of being insufficiently clever. It is a big book of tricks."--New Statesman

"A scintillating exercise in campus comedy."--Sunday Times

"Masterful... Eugenides brilliantly captures the excitement of intellectual discovery and argument for its own sake."--Psychologies

"Thought provoking and entertaining... utterly engrossing... Eugenides hasn’t just raised his game, he’s changed the fictional goalposts."--Henry Sutton, Mirror

"His understanding of the agony and the ecstasy of manic depressions displays a level of empathy the illness never yet found in a novel."--Economist

About the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993 to great acclaim and he has received numerous awards for his work. In 2003, Eugenides received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and France’s Prix Medicis and has sold more than 3 million copies.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And Sometimes They Were Very Sad 2 Dec 2011
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
Not having reading anything by Eugenides before, I was curious to discover what has made him a Pullitzer prize-winner.

This is the story of the triangular relationship between three young Americans who meet at university in the early 1980s: Madeleine, a diligent student of English literature, but lacking in a sense of direction, falls for the brilliant, charismatic but manic depressive biologist, Leonard. Meanwhile, after a brief friendship which comes to nothing, Mitchell loves her from afar, and seeks escapism in religious theory, and a circuitous journey to India to work as a volunteer for Mother Theresa.

The novel is a modern take on the "marriage plot", seen by one of Madeleine's English professors as the dominant theme of novels up to 1900, based on the idea that women could only achieve success through marrying men, ideally with money, after which they "lived happily ever after" or endured their fate, since there was no easy escape route via divorce.

The author's technical talent is displayed through some vivid and imaginative descriptions, and his sharp ear for dialogue. The recreation of the events and attitudes of the 1980s rings true, and brings back memories for those who lived through them. Many scenes are funny or poignant. In particular, the analysis of Leonard's manic depression in its various phases strikes close to the bone and often makes for unbearably painful reading.

Ironically, it is the at times almost manic nature of the writing which weakens the structure of the novel, so that the whole may seem less than the sum of the parts. Eugenides spirals off at a tangent where his imagination leads him.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genius! 7 Nov 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Like Jeffrey Eugenides' other two novels, what makes his work special is the characters in them behave exactly as you would expect people in real life to: they make mistakes, they are vulnerable, they are fallible, and in this one they are also mentally ill.

Other readers have gone through the plot so I will give that a miss, but suffice to say that if you love literature (and considering you're on a book-ordering website reading a book review, then you must do) then this is the book for you. Set in collegiate 1980's America, this book touches more on other writers than anything I've ever come across, while weaving the complicated lives of three main characters in a touching and genius way. The characters are rich and complex, almost jumping out of the page at you - one is in love. One is breaking free. One is mentally ill. The pages start to turn themselves and you block out the world just to keep reading. And the small touches the author puts in, moments where one is ashamed or embarrassed or excited, those are ones you relate to and which make you care about the character more and more. There isn't a great deal of action, per se, in the book and yet you finish it feeling like you've run a marathon.

Brilliant writing. I had pre-ordered it and knew I wouldn't be sorry, and sure enough I wasn't.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A struggle to finish 22 April 2014
This was so boring I barely managed to finish it. It was definitely far too long. I am the same age and in the same position (graduating university) as the main characters and I found them boring, self-absorbed and one-dimensional. They were impossible to relate to and seemed more like caricatures of ideals the author wanted to portray. It was far too smug with the literary references and stylistic imitation. By the end I didn't care what happened to any of the characters, especially the female one, and I would've been happy for them to all die of consumption haha. I can see the author was trying to make the main female (I forgot her name she was so dull) like a romantic heroine but none of the heroines of the seventeenth century were as passive and lacking in personality as she. The 'heroes' were neurotic and pathetic. I almost liked Leonard because he was slightly crazy and I thought he was going to do something interesting but then they medicated him and he became boring like everyone else. Everyone (including the author) was too busy trying to be somebody or something else and trying to live up to some ideal rather than concentrating on actually being authentic and realistic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars struggled 3 Mar 2014
I really struggled to finish this book, I gave up reading it several times but stuggled on only because it was a gift. The story is dull, long-winded and boring. The characters are empty shells for whom I have no feelings whatsoever. By the time I reached the end I still didn't know them.
In comparison the works of Charles Dickens are pacy, racy, concise and exciting with never a dull moment.
The writer's other books may be far better but on this showing I am not willing to chance my money
I'm afraid that this book is, for me, a prime candidate for Fahrenheit 451
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling stew 12 Feb 2012
There's no doubt that Eugenides is an excellent writer in a technical sense. And here he has concocted up a dazzling stew made up of a girl so spoiled she doesn't know what she should want in life, a ruthless egomaniac who is entirely immersed in self-love (or self-hate, which is ultimately the same thing) and a weak and inconsequential religious dreamer who is going to travel the world but never arrive. The dreamer serves as the vehicle for the author to astound us about how cosmopolitan he is. These characters - and many more - float in a soup improbably composed of Ivy League college life, Poona, Mother Theresa's hospital, Paris in the spring, Monte Carlo in the summmer, Greece in the autumn... lots and lots more, logically encompassing that greatest of all American feast days, Thanksgiving. Add as flavouring a good strong dose of mental illness, not thirty pages of it but around three hundred.
The clinical detail is probably so good that the work could be used as a textbook in medical school; having no direct experience of bipolar disease, I am not qualified to judge. The whole things is spiced with embarassingly superficial literary theory, the Regency age, the Victorian age, a dash of faddish 1980s postmodern philosophy, feminism, homosexuality, promiscuity, mostly bad sex, a little good sex, mating yeast cells, drugs, alcohol, popular religion including Quakerism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Methodism, Hinduism... all that's missing is a Mormon or two.
Unsurprisingly, nothing much comes out of the story that one might not have guessed after the first few pages. The characters will survive, as we all mostly do our college years, damaged and daunted. All in all, this sounds like something that a brilliant and immature postgrad concocted up.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An Unsuccessful Novel of Ideas
Jeffrey Eugenides' novel "The Marriage Plot" (2011) explores a triangular relationship between three graduating seniors at Brown University in 1982. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robin Friedman
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and insightful novel
I liked 'The Marriage Plot', despite it somewhat lacking the characteristic sparkling originality of Eugenides, because there's a lot of light enjoyment to be had in a novel which... Read more
Published 2 months ago by LilacLemon
1.0 out of 5 stars Another academic writing a story set in academia
Really boring. I think this is classed as literary fiction: ie it attempts to be profound by having the characters talk about 'clever' things and generally talk round and round... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jill Hubbard
3.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant read
Not as good as Middlesex by the same author, a lighthearted voyage trough the themes of teen and young adult relationships, anxieties, weddings and failed couplings... Read more
Published 4 months ago by FM
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Eugenides' best
Madeline is in the final year of a literature degree. She's reading classic authors and writing her thesis on the use of the marriage plot in the novel, a topic seen as seriously... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Sam
3.0 out of 5 stars The disease of our time
It's nothing to fuss about unless you can be enraptured by the tales of the bourgeois, in which case are accurately depicted. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Renata Lopes Vincent
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, what happened?
I loved Middlesex and the Virgin Suicides, I can't see how the same author, who wrote with such subtlety and intelligence, and crafted rich and likeable characters could write this... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lily Emery
4.0 out of 5 stars The Marriage Plot delivers!
I love Jeffrey Eugenides' writing and his ability to juxtapose complex concepts in a narrative. I loved his first book and can't wait to read more!
Published 8 months ago by Adele
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Having read Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides (and loved them) I bought this book despite the plot premise not sounding too promising. I only got as far as page 63. Read more
Published 10 months ago by H
1.0 out of 5 stars Trivial, naive and pretentious but trying to be intellectual and...
It's Jeffrey Eugenides so I really was optimistic about this one. Unfortunately even though "The Marriage Plot" has its moments, most of the time it's so incredibly trivial that... Read more
Published 10 months ago by coveredinskin
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