BOOK REVIEW: The Marriage Plot.


It’s supposed to be, like, unbelievably nice outside this weekend. Blue skies with temps hovering around 80 degrees F. I want to go on bike rides and read in the sunshine.

I read this book earlier in the year, but never wrote about it because I feel majorly unqualified to review this book since Jeffrey Eugenides is a Pulitzer Prize winning writing GENIUS, but I’m going to get all crazy and do it anyway. 

Title: The Marriage Plot

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Published: October 2011

Pages: 416 pages

Genre: Fiction (Not Young Adult either….woah.)

I. Overview:

It’s 1982 and college graduation weekend at Brown University. We’re quickly thrust into the lives of Madeleine Hanna (beautiful, sweet, English major who enjoys tennis and Victorian novels), Leonard Bankhead (tortured philosophy major who is also a scientist), and Mitchell Grammaticus (intelligent Religion major who is soon to travel the world in search of truths). Mitchel likes Madeleine and Madeleine likes Leonard and Leonard is….lost. We’re sort of voyeuristically following all of them the year after graduation, as their lives intertwine and unfold.

II. Analysis:

1. Setting:

I loved every single setting in this book. Even Leonard’s dingy apartment. And I MUST visit Brown now. My friend Ashley, who recommended this book to me, went to Brown. I kept thinking that it had to have made the book extra exciting and special to read. What else? Cape Cod. Paris. Europe. India. New York City. Etc. Etc. I now want drop everything and go traveling the world in search of truths.

2. Characters:

Separately, I enjoyed all of the characters, but when they intertwined with another; then no, I didn’t like them. And it’s because I didn’t feel the emotional connection they supposedly had for one another. At times, I thought, “Sheesh, Jeffrey, this could have been a bit better!” But, but, but, then it got me thinking to most (ALL) of the relationships that I had in my twenties. I was selfish. They were selfish. We were trying to figure out who we were and survive this time. And while our paths crossed, ultimately, we never worked well together. JUST LIKE THE CHARACTERS. After this revelation I thought Jeffrey was BRILLIANT. And that the entire premise of his book, the marriage plot that dominates Victorian novels taken into a modern-day context, was clutch.

3. Writing:

The writing – the descriptions and even the sentence structure – blew me away. It’s so f*cking good. From the very beginning, I just started writing down sentences that I liked.

“Semotics was limited to ten students. Of the ten, eight had taken Introduction to Semiotic Theory. This was visually apparent at the first class meeting. Lounging around the seminar table, when Madeleine  came into the room from the wintry weather outside, were eight people in black t-shirts and ripped jeans. A few had razored off the necks or sleeves of their t-shirt. There was something creepy about one guy’s face – it was like a baby’s face that had grown whiskers – and it took Madeleine  a full minute to realize that he’d shaved off his eyebrows. Everyone in the room was so spectral-looking that Madeleine’s natural healthiness seemed suspect, like a vote for Regan. She was relieved, therefore, when a big guy in a down jacket and snowmobile boots showed up and took the empty seat next to her. He had a cup of take-out coffee.” pg. 25 (I LOVE THIS. The snowmobile boots guy is Leonard!)

In bed on a Friday night, wearing sweatpants, her hair tied back, her glasses smudged, and eating peanut butter from the jar, Madeleine was in a state of extreme solitude. pg. 49 (And this is still my normal nightly routine.)

It had to do with Leonard. With how she felt about him and how she couldn’t tell anyone. With how much she liked him and how little she knew him. With how desperately she wanted to see him and how hard it was to do so.” pg. 49 (Um, this too is still my routine….)

I could go on….I have pages and pages…..but I won’t.

4. Storyline:

Eugenides weaved  a coming of age tale into something incredibly highbrow. I was a hot mess the first (few) years after college. It was full of highs and lows, uncovering self truths while I made a million mistakes, much like these characters are experiencing. Except Eugenides writes in a way that makes them all seem so brilliant that you, the reader, feel like the actual hot mess.

I would say that there was a lot that flew over my head in this novel. Maybe I learned it in college? (Hopefully….) But it was interesting to read and connect with this time in my life, yet also not connect or want to go back and reconnect. He dedicated it to his college roommates, which makes sense.

I liked that each character had their own narrative in the novel, which felt very different than any Victorian novel I’ve read.  At times Leonard’s was sad to read. (I also learned a lot about drugs for bipolar disorder.) Or it was tough to read about an affection that was never meant to be. Nothing seemed swoonworthy about the story-line, like something I might get from my young adult books. At times, I missed having that element in a book.

But a novel doesn’t necessarily fall apart without it.

5. Extras:

The best of any book. Talking Heads references, college – senior year, love triangles, Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, traveling, Paris, real talk on UTI’s, scientists, The Cape, Jane Austen, Betsy Johnson dresses, tennis, and Portland boys.

III. Conclusion: 

Do yourself a favor. Read it this weekend. It’s one of those books that I keep thinking about, replaying in my mind, like a movie that touches you. I liked it, then I didn’t like it, and now I’m back to liking it. I’m still thinking about it and I think that’s the hallmark of something incredibly well done.

IV. Future Implications:

I need to read more books by Jeffrey Eugenides.

V. Additional Resources

New York Times Book Review: Jeffrey Eugenides on Liberal Arts Graduates in Love

NPR: A ‘Marriage Plot’ Full of Intellectual Angst

Badass Digest BOOK REVIEW: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Still on my nightstand: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (almost done!) and An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

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About Sarah

Always thinking about my next meal.
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10 Responses to BOOK REVIEW: The Marriage Plot.

  1. jejobe says:

    a) I love how you structure your book reviews.
    b) Have you read “Middlesex”? It’s one of my FAVORITE books. (Eugenides!)
    c) I’m excited to read you review of “An Uncommon Education”.
    d) I’m like, 514th in line for this book at the Seattle Public Library. Moan.

    • Sarah says:

      I have NOT read Middlesex, but will soon. I’ll be interested to hear if you like it because from reviews it appears that Middlesex devotees didn’t love this one as much. I also want to read Virgin Suicides.

      P.S. I had a long wait for it at the library, but not that long. Ouch.

  2. lara says:

    thank you so much for this review – I’ve checked it out twice from the library, but never started it because there are such extreme opinions about the book. I think I’ll give it a try because we seem to have similar taste/

    • Sarah says:

      Lara, I’m excited for you to read it and hear your thoughts. It’s definitely very different from YA – the emotions that some YA authors capture SO WELL aren’t in this book – and it’s not as quick of a read. Some parts (Mitchell’s) were a bit slow for me. But in all, I enjoyed it.

      The reviews are so extreme, especially around the ending. I happened to like how it ended. I think everything, even the things that I didn’t love immediately, all worked out so well for the novel as a whole.

  3. Sarah, I absolutely loved this book too!! I have read everything he’s written, and he is absolutely one of my favorites. Virgin Suicides is also really, really amazing. What’s next for you?

    I’m reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, an epistolary novel in which a mother of a boy who shoots his classmates writes to her estranged husband. I just started it, and it’s quite heavy. I’m looking for a contemporary read to add to my American Lit course next year. Now I’m re-thinking Eugenides. ctually — YES, perhaps I’ll book Middlesex on my reading list for my class next year, now that I’ve remembered how awesome it is.

  4. Good review. I finished reading it last month, and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed Middlesex. I agree you about those locations! I wanted to visit all of those places.

  5. KELLY! says:

    My absolute favorite cookbook PLENTY is peeking out from under The Marriage Plot. Let’s see you whip up something from that bad boy! Waiting with baited breath… <3 your blog stalker

    • Sarah says:

      KELLY! Isn’t it a gorgeous cookbook? What have you made from it? I’ll whip up something this weekend – I need something to get me out of my English muffin rut.

      Also, I keep telling Allison that she needs to visit you out in California! Go have an adventure.

  6. Joleen says:

    Rough time attempting to subscribe – Is anybody else having trouble?
    Fantastic read nonetheless!

    • Sarah says:

      Really? I’ve heard people have a hard time commenting, but I think that’s just WordPress being WordPress. Erg.

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