Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot
By Jeffrey Eugenides
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374203054, October 2011, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

Angst-ridden smart folks trying to figure it out.

The Rest of It:

The Marriage Plot is this big, bold forray into what it’s like to be young with options. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all graduating from Brown. It’s the early 80’s and their lives are just beginning to swing into the unknown. Madeleine, an English major, knows that grad school is in her future, but now that she’s fallen in love with Leonard, who has his own baggage in the form of manic-depression, she’s trying to fit it all in and find a balance.

Mitchell, who never truly connected with Madeleine, has it in his head that she’s the mate for him and is a tiny bit obsessed with her. He is always on the outside, looking in and can’t understand Madeleine’s desire to be with Leonard. As Madeleine follows Leonard to Cape Cod for an internship, Mitchell travels around the world to pursue his interest in religion, but more importantly, to get Maddie out of his head.

Although the story plods along at an incredibly slow pace, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the “bigness” of it. I was in college in the late 80’s and Eugenides nailed 80’s college life and I mean, NAILED it. You’ve got your academic life taking up most of your time but then… then there is this other half of you that is going out and meeting people. Often, one person turns out to be more than a friend and then all of sudden life shifts and you are thinking of marriage and the white picket fence. Maybe.

The Marriage Plot is all about that time. That time where you feel as if you have all these options, yet have no idea where you’ll really end up. It’s about figuring out what you really want and realizing that the decisions you make today, could affect you for the rest of your life. As Madeleine studies romances of the past, she realizes that history does not have to repeat itself.

I love angst and there is plenty of it contained within these pages to last you a lifetime. Did I love the characters? No. I often found myself frustrated by their inability to take things in, but were they real to me? Most definitely. Leonard, who suffers manic-depression throughout the novel was probably my favorite of the characters because he was so flawed yet there were times where he was completely lucid. During these times, I saw his brilliance and how a girl like Maddie could fall in love with him.

Overall, this is not a book that will wow you with its plot. It’s not a page-turner but instead a quiet, introspective look at relationships and if you are a book lover (who isn’t?) then you will love this book for the bookish references peppered throughout the story. I had an easy time picking this one up and putting it down. It’s the type of book you can easily dip in and out of but every time I put it down, I found myself thinking about my own college years.

Note from Ti: This book is very different from Middlesex so you really can’t compare the two. If you go into this one hoping for another Middlesex then you’ll be disappointed.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

36 thoughts on “Review: The Marriage Plot”

    1. I borrowed it. With all of the mixed reviews I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I’ve read it, it would have been money well spent. But probably not a book you’d pick up again to re-read.

  1. Great review. Once I made it through Part 1 I sailed through the novel but agree it’s a bit tedious at times.

    I was happy for Mitchell at the end. As for everyone else… they have issues to resolve (and that’s okay).

    My book club read this in November, everyone but one said they enjoyed it. We had a nice discussion but I wouldn’t recommend it for book clubs.

    1. Mitchell was the guy that bugged me the most. Always gazing at Maddie, always a dreamer. But as you said, the ending was perfect.

  2. I keep reading things about the characters not being likeable and the plot moving slowly.. Makes it not sound very good, lol. But I may pick it up sometime and take your word for it that book lovers will like it!

    1. It has a slow feel to it because these characters meander through life going from one life event to another. I liked the languidness of it though.

  3. Ti, great review! I definitely want to get my hands on a copy of this one. I didn’t care for Middlesex, so I’m thinking this one will be my cup of tea – yay! Sounds like an interesting read – can’t wait! Cheers!

    1. Middlesex dealt with much larger issues (in my opinion) and was a family saga that you could sink your teeth into. This one is less fanfare but still good. It’s reminded me a little bit of Sunset Park.

  4. I loved the book, but then again it was about my contemporaries — one character was born the same month and year I was. Certainly the experience of worrying about losing your cash and traveler’s cheques in Europe — and traveling in the pre-cell phone era — is one that resonated with me strongly. I’m interested to see reactions of people who aren’t late boomers.

    1. It was really quite good as long as you weren’t expecting huge plot points. I loved Middlesex and this one was very good for totally different reasons. I want to read The Virgin Suicides soon.

  5. I just finished this one on audio the other day, and I loved it. I actually can’t stop thinking about the characters and what will happen to them in the future. It was really an expansive novel, and as you say, there was a lot of angst, but it was painted with intelligence and sensitivity. You are right also that this book is not like Middlesex in the slightest, but it’s a great read nonetheless. Fantastic review, Ti!

    1. About halfway through I worried about not liking the characters but really, they were true to who they were, not a glorified version of what we’ve come to expect from a romance.

    1. I went through all that stuff Maddie did and then some. It felt good to read it now, at the age that I am and then look back to see how different choices would have impacted me.

  6. Great review of this book — I really appreciated what you lifted and reflected on. I tend to not be wild about books set at universities since my uni experience was abysmal — I get a bit jealous of those students with exciting, dramatic lives! — but the concept of the ‘marriage plot’ really intrigues me. Many other bloggers I read has said Leonard was their fav too — I’m def adding this to the TBR for someday, someday…

    1. You won’t get jealous of these guys :) At certain times, I found myself relating to all three characters. I wanted Maddie to be more assertive but stepping into her shoes, I could see where she’d be blindsided by love and overlook the more obvious issues. All the learning in the world doesn’t teach you to have common sense. You either have it, or you don’t.

  7. It sounds like your reaction to this one was very similar to mine. You say that he writes authentically about being in college in the ’80s, but I would suggest that his description is true of the college experience in general, regardless of the time period. I went to college in the late ’90s, and as you say–he nailed it. (Perhaps the only difference is that now college students have the pressure to go to school, party a lot, AND run a successful startup.)

    Thanks for another great review!

    1. I listened to an interview with Eugenides and the interviewer asked why he chose the 80’s and he said it was “what he knew.” I suppose I singled the 80’s out because it was also what I knew…but hey..with all of the impacted classes I had to wait for, it was the 90’s by the time I graduated. You’re right…not much changed. LOL.

  8. After reading so many positive thoughts on this one, it will certainly be a book that if I come across it at my library I would grab it. But now maybe I should read Middlesex too???!!! 😀

  9. I haven’t read Middlesex yet (I know, shame on me!) so that won’t affect my reading of this one. I’m definitely thinking this would make a great book club read. Either way, I’m reading it!

  10. I loved Middlesex and liked Marriage Plot. You are right about not being able to compare the two as they are so very different. While I will read Middlesex perhaps a second time — this one I would not, yet I still recommend it. Happy you got a chance to experience it.

  11. You’ve nailed this one. I totally enjoyed it, but you are spot-on saying it is unlike Middlesex. Night and Day. I look forward to his next novel. God knows how long we will wait. But it is worth it.

  12. I didn’t like this one. I was expecting it to be more about marriage (or about marrying young)… or something pertaining to the title. I didn’t really feel like the plot matched the title or the press buzz before the book. I tried not to read any reviews about it before-hand (but maybe I should have). Not sorry I read it, just disappointed.

  13. I think I’m one of the few people who prefer The Marriage Plot to Middlesex – although I can’t give a full comparison because I only made about 75 pages into Middlesex. I liked the family saga part of it, but just couldn’t get into the whole brother/sister incest part. I have noticed that books about incest kill the reading experience for me.

  14. I borrowed this from the library but didn’t have time to read it cause I’ve so many TBR’s. Thanks for your review, it sounds like something I’d enjoy. I’ve Middlesex too from a used book sale last year. But The Marriage Plot sounds like the one I’d pick up first.

  15. I don’t know why but I have a hard time with this author. I abandoned Middlesex a quarter of the way through…Maybe I just didn’t have the right mindset at the time. But I don’t think I will attempt this one. I try to stay away from angst – I’m full up on that in my own life! HA!

  16. I like the sound of this book and I think I’ll be able to relate to the characters a bit or, at least, understand them since I was in college in the late 80’s. I don’t mind novels that move along slowly. I like being able to put a book down and pick it back up when I feel like it so long as the story holds my attention and this is this story has angst I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.
    Your review is wonderful, Ti. Thank you! I’m way behind visiting blogs and came here after reading your post about the audio version of The Marriage Plot. I love your idea of listening to part of the audio of some of the books you have read. My only problem with audio books is sometimes my mind wanders. I’m hoping the more I listen to audio books, the more I’ll get used to it and stop doing that!

    I’m going to listen to the audio excerpt now, thank you!

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