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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And Sometimes They Were Very Sad
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,...
Published on 2 Dec 2011 by Antenna

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A struggle to finish
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...
Published 3 months ago by Cece de la Vela


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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And Sometimes They Were Very Sad, 2 Dec 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Hardcover)
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. For instance, in the early chapters he launches into structuralism and specific works like Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse" without considering or caring how many readers will be able or willing to follow him. In fact, I only needed to "google" for a few minutes to fill the essential gaps in my knowledge, or to check later that the custom-printed wallpaper on Madeleine's bedroom wall was based on a real set of stories about "Madeline" by Ludwig Bemelman. When it came to the genetics of yeast I just let Leonard's explanations wash over me. However, although I have learned more about literature from this book, and extended my vocabulary ("chancre", "pentiment", etc), I feel that the lengthy digressions have been at the expense of the narrative drive.

There is also the author's tendency to meander back and forth in time, which means that many important events are reported, rather than enacted, which would have made them more dramatic.

I was left feeling that I had read a series of on occasion brilliant short stories or thumbnail sketches, held together by a loose plot which at times seems to be about the pain, loss and waste caused by manic depression, although I am sure that is not meant to be the main point. If Eugenides had focused more tightly on the three main characters and developed their interactions more fully, I think I would have cared more about their dilemmas, particularly Madeleine's and Mitchell's.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genius!, 7 Nov 2011
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This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Kindle Edition)
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 review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
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
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
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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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nowhere near as good as Middlesex, 1 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Hardcover)
The Marriage Plot disappointed me. Perhaps it's unfair to compare anything to a book as sublime as Middlesex but Jeffrey Eugenides set that bar so very high. As you will expect he remains a wonderful writer but unfortunately the plot of this novel is somewhat prosaic and the characters do not elicit much empathy. I simply didn't care what happened to them. It's an easy read and satisfying to a degree - just not much depth or originality. I couldn't find anything in the characters or the storyline that I haven't come across elsewhere in a more compelling setting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another academic writing a story set in academia, 17 May 2014
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This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
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 and get nowhere. Personally, I like a good plot with engaging characters. All this intellectual posturing strikes me as pointless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Unsuccessful Novel of Ideas, 5 July 2014
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
Jeffrey Eugenides' novel "The Marriage Plot" (2011) explores a triangular relationship between three graduating seniors at Brown University in 1982. The three primary characters are Madeleine Hanna, Leonard Bankhead, and Mitchell Grammaticus. Madeleine is from an upper middle-class East coast background. She is majoring in English and is an able if not brilliant student with an interest in Victorian literature and its treatment of marriages. Leonard and Mitchell are Madeleine's love interests. The tall ruggedly handsome Leonard is the child of a poor, broken home in Portland, Oregon and a highly promising biology student. He is also severely manic-depressive. Mitchell grew up in Detroit and is unsure of what he wants to do. He has majored in religious studies, read and thought a great deal and has prospects of attending divinity school followed by an academic career. His parents, understandably, are concerned about Mitchell's unremunerative choice of a major. Mitchell is awkward with women. His relationship with Madeleine seems to have devolved into the tormented frustrating category of "friends", so common and so painfully ambiguous among young men and women.

The book throughout is written in a circular style in which events are described frequently more than once from the standpoint of two or three of the primary characters. The manner in which this storytelling device is handled makes the book wordy and repetitive. The early portions of the novel are set on graduation day with extended looks at the college lives of the three protagonists. The longer part of the book takes place subsequent to graduation when the three characters begin to live adult lives. Madeleine and Leonard live together on Cape Cod as Leonard has received a scientific fellowhip. His mental and emotional condition is unstable at best and becomes progressively worse. Mitchell puts off possible graduate study at divinity school in favor of a planned year trip to Europe and India with a male friend.

There are good moments and thoughtful ideas in "The Marriage Plot". Eugenides captures the atmosphere of college life, as his three main characters, and other characters, live in a round of parties, alcohol use, and sometimes easy sometimes rejecting sexuality. I wondered at times about the education. But the book also includes portrayals of thought of different kinds. There is a discussion of romance that pervades the book. The novel is greatly concerned, in a thoughtful, nuanced way, with gender issues, and what may be important in these issues, with what perhaps is faddish, and with what might be better left aside. The strongest sections of the book are those which consider religion, with most of these sections involving Mitchell and his search for religious understanding. Eugenides perceptively weaves into his book discussions of William James' "The Variety of Religious Experience" The Varieties of Religious Experience a Study in Human Nature Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902 (Classic Reprint), the Jesus Prayer, which many readers will know from Salinger's "Franny and Zooey"Franny and Zooey, the mysticism of Saint Theresa and Meister Eckhart, Mother Teresa, the possibility of salvation through simple untutored faith and much more. The religious discussions are at the center of the book and cast light on the other issues the novel discusses.

In the latter part of the book, the author describes Madeleine dealing with Leonard's mental illness in the following terms. "The experience of watching Leonard get better was like reading certain difficult books. It was like plowing through late James, or the pages about agrarian reform in Anna Karenina, until you suddenly got to a good part again which kept on getting better and better until you were so enthralled that you were almost grateful for the previous dull stretch because it increased your eventual pleasure." Eugenides seems to intend this passage, in part, as a modernistic self-reference to his own novel. It reminds readers to persevere through the apparently dull sections of a difficult, important work of literature and to think about the importance of these sections in the context of the entire novel.

Eugenides attempted to write a long, challenging novel that would bring its readers to consider the relationships among the various parts. In his treatment of religion, which appears on the whole sympathetic to a simple believing Christianity, and in the portrayals of the difficulty of gender-based thinking, he offers good insights which do not bow to standards of correctness. But the many fine pages and thoughts of "The Marriage Plot" are drowned in a welter of blustery writing which take attention away from the book's virtues rather than, in the kind of writing Eugenides envisioned, enhancing them. The characters, especially Madeleine and Leonard, quickly become typeset. They are described in a detached almost clinical way. I couldn't bring myself to involvement with either one. The writing is throughout verbose. Many of the scenes in the book appear virtually endless while being read. They distract and detract from the message the book tries to convey. This is a book that could be effectively written as a work of about 250 pages rather than in the over 400 pages of the text. The long windy writing kept me page-counting and waiting for the book to end. While there are good thoughts in this book, the overall effect of my reading was,unfortunately, one of tedium.

Robin Friedman
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and insightful novel, 9 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
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 explores the classic themes of the age old love triangle and facing life after college. The story embodies what it is to be young - to fall in love with wild abandon, to discover new things about yourself as you carve your own path in life, to make mistakes and feel uncertain about your decisions. The three main characters aren't always likeable but they do a satisfying job of representing many significant aspects of post-graduate life and young adult relationships. Leonard is the most interesting character and the one who gives the most substance to the novel - the depiction of his struggles with manic depression is well executed and painfully affective. There are a lot of literary references (maybe too many) which may jar with readers who are unfamiliar with the texts that are mentioned. The story also jumps back and forth in time a lot, often depicting the same events from different perspectives, and this is a quality which some readers might find irritating or repetitive but it worked for me. Overall, I found it to be a satisfying read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Eugenides' best, 9 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Paperback)
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 outdated in the university culture of the 1980s. As she finishes her final year at university and attempts to find her way in life after it, her path entwines with that of two men, Mitchell and Leonard. Mitchell, a religious studies graduate, is keen to travel the world in search of mystic experiences. He is also certain that he is destined to end up married to Madeline. Leonard is a talented scientist promised a research fellowship at one of the most prestigious centres in the country, but his charisma covers a difficult battle with bipolar disease. As Madeline navigates the stormy path of life after college, will she find herself starring in her own marriage plot, or is the marriage plot truly dead?

I'll be honest - I picked this book up purely because it is by Jeffrey Eugenides. The Virgin Suicides is one of my favourite books and I really enjoyed Middlesex, so at this point I will buy and read anything Eudenides puts out without a second thought for whether or not the plot is appealing. With that in mind, my overall impression of The Marriage Plot is that it was very well written (I'd expect nothing less), but much more self-consciously literary than either of Eugenides previous works, and therefore not quite as enjoyable.

I agree with a lot of what Eugenides is trying to say in the novel, mainly that there is still room in literature for a book that tells a simple story, that our stories may have changed with the complications of modern life, but that readers still want a story that tells them something about the dilemma of the characters. There's a lot of gentle fun being poked at undergraduates and literary criticism in general, which was enjoyable too. But the whole time I was reading, I felt as though Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell were just vehicles for Eugenides themes, rather than the central drivers of his story, if that makes sense. They didn't jump off the page and I didn't fully connect with them emotionally. In marriage plots, you're supposed to really care who the main character ends up with, and although I thought Eugenides' twist on the classic plot device was clever, I didn't feel that connection.

I don't want to come off as too harsh, as The Marriage Plot is still a very good book. I thought Eugenides' portrayal of mental illness in the form of Leonard, and the effect that it can have on the people around you, was very strong and I found these parts of the story gripping. I loved reading about Mitchell's adventures in India and his struggle to decide what kind of person he was. As I mentioned earlier, it goes without saying that the whole thing was well written and for quite a chunky book, I just sped through it.

I think that if I hadn't already read The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, I would have adored The Marriage Plot and would at this point be rushing out to find everything else Eugenides had ever written. But because I have read his previous work, I couldn't help but compare them, and The Marriage Plot just didn't quite live up to expectations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The disease of our time, 4 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Marriage Plot (Hardcover)
It's nothing to fuss about unless you can be enraptured by the tales of the bourgeois, in which case are accurately depicted. All the characters live in some sort of never ending life crisis and none of them, as far as I remember, faces any substantial dilemma.
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The Marriage Plot
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Hardcover - 11 Oct 2011)
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