on 15 October 2002
It is difficult to praise this book too much. Its ambition is obvious from its length and its multiple themes, the Greek diaspora, the American Dream and its racial divide, hermaphroditism, the sexual revolution, evolutionary biology....However, what I would not have thought possible was that this ambition be realised with such deftness of touch. There is not a dud paragraph in its 500-odd pages, and I imagine that my problem with the odd sentence was more to do with my lack of familiarity with the American idiom than with any failing on the part of the author. But these hiccups, rather than discouraging me, only made me more eager to to see what followed. At the end I was breathless with wonder. Would I read a better novel? Do we have to wait 9 years for his next?
on 23 March 2004
This is one of those few novels that had me enchanted from the first page, and I didn't put it down untill the last.
I initially bought it on a whim, as it was on offer and the write ups were good for it. However it has cemented it's place as one of my favourite books to be released in recent times.
Middlesex is basically an epic family saga, covering three generations of the Greek Stephanides family as they emigrate from their homeland to America. Historically accurate as the story unfolds around the social backgrounds of the changing eras the reader is consumed in the realism of the novel - this could easily be a real Greek-American family. The greek connection is kept firmly within the book as the narrartor, Cal, recounts lesser known Greek myths in connection with her own story. This leads on to an unusual device by Eugenides to seperate the story further from typical family saga's - Cal is a hermaphrodite.
This condition does not override the novel, in fact it takes a backseat for the vast majority of it until the end. However, the research which Eugenides has done into this and the other subjects touched by the book is clearly astounding as his accuracy in his portrayal is astonishing.
The character development is superb - each character over the three generations develops a unique personality encouraging and coaxing readers to fall in love with them. You will. The emotions of each character seems to jump off the page and take a place in your heart.
Far from just being based around the family house the novel is also packed with its share of action - riots & a car chase are amongst these.
Eugenides description of this epic novel is beautifully vivid and weaves an enchanting image of the lives and inhabitats of his characters. It is cinematic in everything but format.
I've been struggling to think of a negative to say about the book before I finish my review but there really aren't any. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
on 11 January 2010
This is the very rich tale of Calliope/Cal Stephanides a child born with both male and female genitalia and the struggle for acceptance, identity and understanding that it brings. It is interestingly written in the way that we go back two generations to see the chain of events that lead to the gene which causes the condition.
As others have said, this is two stories in one. One is the family back story, and the second part is Cal`s story. The first fairly lengthy part tells her grandparents story from Smyra to the USA. In the USA they have a child, Cal's father, who subsequently marries Cal's mother and they start a family - thus Cal is born. The second part is narrated by Cal and charts the effects of puberty. The struggles that time of life brings are amplified by the urges Cal has to deny and hide - urges Cal doesn't understand - through to diagnosis; Cal's search for identity; struggle to make decisions about the future, and present life.
The grandparent's story for me is some of the best in the book. It's well told, I enjoyed the history lesson that accompanied it, and thought it went well with the brilliant opening. However, after this point it starts to get a bit boring: there are family businesses, extended family sub-plots, and cultural contexts to wade through - some of which I feel didn't add much and could have been significantly edited.
The story picks up again after Cal is born and begins give a personal account of life and the struggles endured. I think there was so much unrealised potential in this part that it's a real shame. Like others I was left wanting more and thinking that the balance between the past and present was sorely misjudged. Cal's struggle and unique viewpoint was what I wanted to read when I picked this up and I found myself short changed. There were great moments of insight to be had, but so much more that was missed.
It is a well written and entertaining read that delivers a good story, but fell short of being a great story. There were moments of insight, but what could have been a fascinating character study was in the end skimmed over. I did care for Cal, but my empathy was never fully engaged.
I think most people would enjoy it purely as an entertaining story, and Euginides is a gifted storyteller, the premise is fascinating after all and a unique story does unfold. However, most are likely to be a bit disappointed it doesn't delve a little deeper into the mind of its central character.
I have given 4 stars because I did enjoy it for what it was, and would recommend it.
on 1 October 2007
When I read books of this length - 500+ pages - I expect that there'll be bits that I find boring. To Eugenides immense credit, I never once found Middlesex anything other than entertaining.
Eugenides's writing is erudite, fluid and very pleasurable to read. He can get away with all sorts of unbelievable conceits because his characters are strong enough and his narrative voice sufficiently original to hold the reader suspended in his imaginary world.
As with all the best books, the plot is incidental or irrelevant, and it is the power of Eugenides's writing holds the fascination - "le plaisir du texte".
The book turnsslightly erratic towards the end, the narrative pace accelerating too much, so that the humorous detail and lazy indulgence of the opening and middle sections is sacrificed for a credible ending. To be fair, this is a common problem with picaresque novels, and the author can be forgiven a little shabbiness for the book's originality and audacity.
on 16 January 2006
Yes, I agree with the other reviews: this is a superb book. It has many laudable features: the prose is clean and crisp; some of the early stories are absolutely captivating; and the narrator is just a darling. Having said so much, I must also admit that the second half of the novel is quite disappointing. The story seems to meander into a series of implausible unsubstantiated episodes (a la Paul Auster), and I don’t think that Eugenides is able to quite capture, with any real sense of emotional satisfaction, the turmoil that Calliope would no doubt be under in having to navigate through the miasma of ambiguous sexuality. But, overall, this is still a remarkable book, and one that I think will endure, if only for the portrayal Calliope’s grandparents’ romance. Please read it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
on 17 February 2005
When I came across this novel in a bookshop in late 2003, I had heard very little about and it so I was able to read it without any preconceived notions of what it would be like. The mysterious initial sentence of the book (as mentioned in other reviews), combined with the fact that this won the Pulitzer in 2003 compelled me to buy it though, and I am exceptionally glad that I did so.
I don't want to give away the plot too much (that would ruin the experience for readers as they proceed through the novel themselves) but I will say that Eugenides has a true gift for writing and his craftwork makes reading a joy. After reading this novel, you feel that you have done something good for your brain, as well as feeling indebted to Eugenides for having produced something of this brilliance.
Although all of the events take place in the C20th onwards, there are many allusions to Greek classical works and mythology (as befits a novel where the main characters are of Greek descent) so that the novel can be read on many levels. The reader also feels drawn to the characters who are well-rounded with both strengths and weaknesses and the author is to be congratulated for dealing with his subject matter with such humanity. This book is by turns funny, sad, historical, political, epic and a study of "otherness" with themes that readers the world over will be able to identify with.
I am not someone who gushes over every book I read or who peppers my analyses of books with abundant superlatives, but Middlesex deserves the praise it has received. At 500+ pages some may be deterred by the length but stick with it: this novel never sags and the rewards will be worth it.
on 20 June 2010
The reason why I have given this book five stars is very simple. It is among the best books I have ever read. What exactly do I mean by this? Firstly, the way/style it is written in; I loved it. It was descriptive but not overly so; it was readable and reminded me of Nabokov in a way. I loved the way it started, introducing the topic and getting you interested and then 'pulling back' and going into the past where the story begins. It is a family saga, an epic journey into the past, as well as about the migration of a family to America, trying to live a new life, given the chance for a fresh start. However, they carry a mutation in their very genes which will have consequences in the life of the narrator. I know that others have described the themes of this book more eloquently, and I will not attempt to copy them. I am just someone who enjoys reading and I want to recommend this book to all of you (ok, maybe not ALL of you. I am sure there will be people who will be 'outraged/disgusted' by the book's topic of hermaphroditism, but, now that I think of it, its actually you who should be reading this book...So basically I'll just say that it would not be suitable for young children, in the same way that Lolita wouldn't be)...! Take a chance on this book, you will be more than pleasantly surprised!
on 1 October 2002
...make it Middlesex. A truly compelling novel about incest, Greek history, the American Dream and hermaphroditism, the story is enchanting from the very first page. Intellectual, but not intimidating, funny, but never punny, this is a book as deep as it is long. The author, Jeffrey Eugenides, writes in such a guileless, uncynical and effortless way that you fall in love with his characters and find yourself understanding and accepting their sometimes morally dubious decisions.
In the central figure of Calliope Stephanides he has created a character as iconic as Holden Caulfield - a character who could equally become a byword for teenage alienation (although obviously a slightly more tongue-twisting one). The story Cal tells is as memorable as Salinger's opus and will stay with you well past the final page. This book is an almost guaranteed classic, and as such well worth buying in hardback and treating very carefully...
on 31 August 2003
This is a fabulous book: delightfully written, captivating, rich in humour and character. The author has a real mastery of voice; he draws the reader in with his elegant, involving storytelling. The book frequently teeters on the brink of the absurd (its basic premiss - the life story of an intersex person, and an account of how he/she turned out that way) - is quite bizarre and off-the-wall, yet Eugenides handles his material both with delicacy and with great wit. The result is a book that does justice to what it has been like to be an American during the past forty years; it also does for the Greco-American experience what the fiction of Saul Bellow has done done for the Jewish-American world. Combines the best of Bellow and Philip Roth with a tenderness you might associate with Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. A triumph, in short.
on 18 October 2007
When I heard about the subject matter of the novel "Middlesex", I have to admit that it sounded weird to me and the subject matter alone almost put me off from reading the book.
I soon realized that I was uncomfortable as the dickens about reading a book about an hermaphrodite. Questioning myself even further, I asked myself how a 529 page book about an hermaphrodite won the Pulitzer Prize and had been chosen by Oprah for her book club. But now that I have read the book, I have discovered that this work is an accurate study of genetics in story book form AND an epic of Greek proportions and grandeur set not only in ancient Greece, Turkey, but in Detroit no less!
Detroit now has a favorite son in Jeffrey Eugenides.
The book is a great read, a classic with beautiful poetic verse. It is funny, poignant, touching, compassionate, educational and imaginative. It stretches your understanding of subjects that maybe you were at first not very comfortable hearing about; let alone read. The book is laid out as a modern Greek epic in the style of the ancient epics reminiscent of the Iliad and the Odyssey. You will learn more than you ever thought you would about ancient Greek mythology.
Along the way you will meet the endearing Stephanides clan and follow their tragic/comedic path from Turkey/Greece to America (settling in of all places Detroit). This family chronicle will introduce you to their history, their genealogy, their genetic make-up, their family ties, their fears of immigration and their assimilation into the American way of life. You will meet Desdemona, Lefty, Father Mike, Zoe, Sourmelina, Milton, Tessie, Chapter Eleven and finally Calliope Helen Stephanides.
From the very first line of the novel, "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkable smogless Detroit day in January 1960, and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974,"..the reader suspects that he is in for an interesting adventure of epic proportions.
The discoveries that Calliope makes along the way in uncovering "her" true self are told with great delicacy by a master storyteller. And the startling choices she makes before Cal finds "his" way home again take the reader on a breathtaking journey which you will not forget.
The Los Angeles Times summed up what this author has been able to do with this uncomfortable subject matter, "Eugenides has taken the greatest mystery of all-What are we, exactly, and where do we come from?---and crafted a story that manages to be both illuminating and transcendent."
All that I can say is, "Don't miss this book." It was well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize and it will keep you up at night turning the pages. You will be hooked by each hidden detail of the Stephanides past.
I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.