I asked for a whackload of books for Christmas and I got every single one that I asked for. Lucky doesn’t even begin to cover it. At this point, I’ve read all but one. I’m savouring them! I should do that more often. I’m really looking forward to the last one (Catherine the Great).
One of the ones that I have read is, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. He’s the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Middlesex (which, after reading The Marriage Plot, is now also on my list. Don’t you love when that happens? You pick up a book and find out that this is the author’s 5th time around and all his/her other work is also fantastic?).
The Marriage Plot follows Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell in the last days of their senior year in college and the year that follows. It’s 1982 and things don’t look that great for newly minted college graduates (sound familiar?).
You want to know at what moment I fell in love with this book?
To start with look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, not arranged by title but by date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library collection of Henry James […] there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters.
Those are the first two sentences and could have been describing my very own library! I knew right away that this was going to be one of those books that stayed with me for a good long while.
Madeleine wakes up on the morning of her college graduation in the dress she borrowed from her roommate to wear to a party. She’s not totally sure how she got home, but she does know that her parents are downstairs, buzzing her apartment, waiting to take her to breakfast. Over the course of the morning with her parents we begin to find out the bits and pieces of her life to this point. Her good friend Mitchell shows up. Her good friend that her parents adore but who it turns out Madeleine isn’t speaking to anymore. Her parents ask if they are going to get to meet her boyfriend, Leonard, who they have heard so much about. Madeleine’s inner monologue doesn’t know how to tell them that they broke up three weeks ago.
Memories fill in the blanks. The memory of taking Mitchell home for Thanksgiving freshman year, of the class where she first meets Leonard. Mitchell and Madeleine have a falling out – Mitchell always secretly convinced that Madeleine is the girl he is going to marry, is content to wait out the period of her life where she throws herself at men like Leonard.
As is so often the case, there is more to all of them than meets the eye. Mitchell is concentrating on going to travel for a 8 months after graduation. Madeleine can’t get over the break up with Leonard, having thought that she was going to go with him when he went to work on this research fellowship. And Leonard? He’s probably the most surprising of all.
When she is just about ready for her graduation ceremony, Madeleine gets a call from a friend of Leonard’s. She drops everything and goes to Leonard and before you know it they are back together. But their new reality is not like anything either of them might have envisioned for themselves.
The next year sees Mitchell travel to Europe and India in search of the truth in religion and humanity, not necessarily finding what he thought he might. Leonard struggles with his diagnosis and alternately needs Madeleine and pushes her away. In the middle of both these men, Madeleine tries to carve out her own identity, academically pushing herself to complete her thesis on The Marriage Plot as laid out in the works of Bronte and Eliot and Austen. The way of the novel in 1982, and the roles that women are taking on, the prevalence of divorce puts this kind of novel at risk.
I. Loved. This. Book. It made me want to run back to school and complete a Master’s in Literature. I thought the way the he handles the sensitive issue of mental illness was brilliant and gentle and honest. The book explores the best and the worst in people in all manner of situations. I couldn’t help but relate to the uncertainty surrounding college graduates in the middle of so much economic strife.
The Marriage Plot exceeded all my expectations. It gave me a palatable taste of religion and philosophy, topics that I never gave much thought to when I was in school, which is the last time I thought that I would ever have any kind of interest in those topics.
I loved it. You need to read it. You will thank me.
One thought on “The Marriage Plot”
Pingback: Book Club Pick: The Lowland | The Paperback Princess