The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
It’s been nine years since Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex hit the shelves, so his highly anticipated new novel arrives much-hyped and with expectations set high.
The Marriage Plot doesn’t possess Middlesex’s ambitious scope and gets off to a (somewhat) slow start, but Eugenides still knows how to write a gorgeous line and his characters are ridiculously appealing. There’s an unrequited-love triangle at the heart of this story, and mental illness, and religious passion – as well as a love of literature, and the kind of power that results from characters awakening to their defects and their unique beauty. Eugenides’ characters navigate their trials, their elations, their disappointments and the tricky entanglements of love and disappointment with grace and resilience. Eugenides somehow manages to resolve their triangle in a satisfactory and surprising way, while tying the thematic elements of the story together.
The ‘marriage plot’ in The Marriage Plot isn’t much like the ones found in the nineteenth-century novels Madeleine is besotted with, in which a heroine overcomes obstacles to secure a fortune through marriage; instead it’s 1982 and Mitchell loves Madeleine, who loves Leonard, who’s up against manic depression. The story takes place within a tight timeline, as the characters finish their undergraduate studies at Brown University (where Eugenides took his undergraduate degree) and take their first tentative steps in the ‘real’ world. The novel is about romantic delusions and how they operate, and about how reality comes along and always has its own way.
Eugenides loves his characters, with all their flaws and their delusions. The Marriage Plot joins them at a very important time in their lives, as they first waken to themselves and to the world. It’s a brilliant journey, full of both anguish and light, and Mr Eugenides has done a superb job making the reader want to join them on their way.
Ed Moreno is from Readings Malvern