My thoughts: This novel has three of my favorite attributes: an academic setting, travel, and it's character driven. I have a soft spot for novels set in academia, and The Marriage Plot utterly immerses itself in it:
"College wasn't like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity."I found the lengthy descriptions of college course content in English, philosophy and religion fascinating, but they may not appeal to all readers. Given the large number of relatively obscure texts mentioned, I was amazed how well Eugenides integrated them into the story in ways that would not alienate a reader unfamiliar with some of them nor bore a reader who knew them well. As a reader who fell into both categories at different times, I still feel I got the same experience, which is truly impressive.
It's no secret I love to travel and often enjoy fiction that takes me on a traveling journey. As with the literature and theory in the first part of the novel, Mitchell's post-college travels took him to places I've visited and places I haven't, and yet I enjoyed them equally. It was a fascinating journey to be a part of.
Although I certainly enjoy plot, character-driven novels remain my favorite. While Madeleine is ostensibly the main character, so much of her story was tied up with the stories of Leonard and Mitchell. It was mostly successful, but the one quibble I had with the novel was the redundancy of his depression. Initially, the insight into depression and mental illness was all-encompassing and illuminating. As time went on, however, I began to grow tired of its focus. Of course, this device mimics the story itself, which I presume was intentional, but it began to hinder my enjoyment, albeit not my appreciation, of this novel. When Madeleine was able to take center stage, however, I most enjoyed the novel. Her thoughts and perspective were delightful and moving:
"You were supposed to feel bad about missing the sixties, but Madeleine didn't. She felt as if she'd been spared a lot of nonsense, that her generation, while inheriting much that was good from that decade, had a healthy distance from it as well, saving them from the whiplash that resulted from being a Maoist one minute and a suburban mother, in Beverly, Massachusetts, the next."I especially loved the irony of this statement in a character-driven novel: "'Please,' Rudiger said dismissively. 'Let's not try to understand each other by autobiography.'"
While I do believe The Marriage Plot is one of the best novels of the year, it fell a bit short of becoming one of my favorite novels of the year. Eugenide's brilliance as a writer and auteur is utterly apparent. Yet Leonard's domination of the novel reduced by enjoyment. If Madeleine were able to shine more, the novel would have been more enjoyable, although not more brilliant.
Favorite passage: "Whereas Madeleine was perfectly happy with the idea of genius. She wanted a book to take her places she couldn't get to herself. She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it. When it came to letters and literature, Madeleine championed a virtue that had fallen out of esteem: namely, clarity."
The verdict: In many ways, I think of The Marriage Plot as I do Freedom (my review). It's brilliant in conception, scope and theme. My enjoyment as a reader comes as much from enjoying the mechanics of the novel as it does the character. It isn't a novel that swept me away with its characters and events, but it is a novel I will continue to respect, analyze and ponder for the years to come.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 418 pages
Publication date: October 11, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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