Friday, 16 March 2012

Review: The Marriage Plot

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 11th, 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction

The year is 1982 and Madeleine is about to graduate from Brown University with a degree in English Literature. Unfortunately, she’s just broken up with her boyfriend Leonard, and seems to be without a place to live once she leaves Brown. Graduation day is a crossroads for most seniors, and with the recession in full swing things are more difficult than usual. Her friend, Mitchell, is going to attempt to wait out the recession by going to Europe and then India. A Religion major, Mitchell is in love with Madeleine and believes that they will end up together. Madeleine wrote her thesis on the marriage plot in Eliot and Austen’s novels, in which the heroine has to choose between two suitors. Although the marriage plot is dead, the similarities between Madeleine’s life after college and the marriage plot are still clear. With divorce and the many changes in relationships in the last few hundred years, can there still be true romance?

I recently read The Virgin Suicides and liked the writing enough to be interested in Jeffrey Eugenides newest book, The Marriage Plot. In a way, this book is relevant to my life at present since I just graduated from university (although no one would call my life a marriage plot.) This book ended up being less like The Virgin Suicides and more like The Art of Fielding. The story follows three college graduates, Madeline, Mitchell and Leonard, who majored in English, Religion and Science, respectively. Just twenty-two, they try to figure out how they want their lives to turn out and who they want to be. Mitchell is delving into religion, while Madeleine is devoted to Leonard, who was recently hospitalized for Manic Depression. In my review for The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned how the reader knows so little about all the characters. While this is still feel the same, in a way we get to see more of the what’s at the heart of the joint male narrators than we do from Madeleine in The Marriage Plot. I suppose you could say she was a superficial character, although we do know a lot about her. I never really saw the complexity that Mitchell claims to see. The character I related to most was Mitchell, who repeats Salinger’s Franny’s prayer to himself as a mantra. After graduation, Mitchell and his roommate leave the US for Europe, and travel for months before heading to India. I found Mitchell’s self-discovery as he travelled the most interesting. While Eugenides wrote well from the perspective of Leonard, I felt like his one section dragged on. I was never charmed by Leonard, as Madeleine is, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy the chapter from his point of view. The premise, centring around the marriage plot, was interesting and I was happy with how it was carried out. The plot was a bit slow moving, especially during flashbacks. I had heard that the ending was a big disappointment, and I spent the whole time dreading what would happen when I got to the final pages. I was surprised to find that I liked the ending and how it related to the themes of the book. The Marriage Plot is thoughtful without being difficult or too pretentious. While it was different from The Virgin Suicides in many ways, both books share Eugenides’ artful prose.


“In Madeleine's face was a stupidity Mitchell had never seen before. It was the stupidity of all normal people. It was the stupidity of the fortunate and the beautiful, of everybody who got what they wanted in life and so remained unremarkable.”


  1. It's quite wonderful indeed how he brings the work of literary legends like Austen into the here and now. I'm so proud of him!

  2. Eugenides' characters are complex, smart, emotional, and at crossroads which each handles differently. College graduation, employment or not, travel or not, marriage or not, good relationships with parents or not, mental and physical health or not, sexuality -- it's all there. All the characters draw you in and keep you rooting for them. A fast and interesting read!
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