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The Marriage Plot | [Jeffrey Eugenides]

The Marriage Plot

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
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Publisher's Summary

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in 18th-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes.

Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the 19th century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

©2011 Jeffrey Eugenides (P)2011 Macmillan Audio

What the Critics Say

“There are serious pleasures here for people who love to read.” (Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly)

“Wry, engaging and beautifully constructed.” (William Deresiewicz, The New York Times Book Review)

“[The Marriage Plot] is sly, fun entertainment, a confection for English majors and book lovers . . . Mr. Eugenides brings the period into bright detail—the brands of beer, the music, the affectations—and his send-ups of the pretensions of chic undergraduate subcultures are hilarious and charmingly rendered . . . [His] most mature and accomplished book so far” (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal)

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  •  
    FanB14 03-13-13
    FanB14 03-13-13

    Short, Simple, No Spoilers

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4295
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    Story
    "Esoteric, Vapid, Trite"

    Were my expectations too high after "The Virgin Suicides" and "Middlesex"? Perhaps it's unfair to place such expectations on a brilliant writer.

    I didn't connect with the characters and found them to be whiny, self-absorbed and devoid of personality. The narrator was positively horrible when voicing female characters. Please listen to the sample if you do purchase this book.

    The pretentious details and plot the vapid characters wade through was exhausting. Stayed with the book until the last word waiting for an epiphany or a satisfying conclusion, alas to no end. Numerous references to Victorian Brit list were ostentacious and my degrees are in this subject matter.

    Enter at your own risk.

    62 of 63 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kay San Antonio, TX, United States 11-24-11
    Kay San Antonio, TX, United States 11-24-11 Member Since 2006
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    "I Think I'm in Love"

    To paraphrase (very loosely) somebody: a story without enlightenment is a "beach read"; enlightenment without a story is a textbook. This book has both.
    The plot similarities to Franzen's last book (student love triangle extended beyond college) are certainly present, but the similarities end there.The characters in "Freedom" are viewed with such ironic detachment that, although amusing and interesting for awhile (the first part of the novel made a brilliant short story in the New Yorker) their lives become tedious and, ultimately,because it goes on for too long, I was anxious for the book to end.
    On the contrary, Eugenides' characters are much more real and sympathetic (appealing, even) and I don't want their story to end. I'm sure Mr. Eugenides is tired of having his work compared to Mr. Franzen's but I just had to jump in on this.
    The performance in this audible production is outstanding. The narrator's rendition of the character of Leonard is so good I'm almost falling in love with him myself. I looked for other Audible offerings by this narrator and find that his talents are being under-utilized. He should be employed for books more like this one.

    32 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Doggy Bird Glen Ridge, NJ USA 07-29-12
    Doggy Bird Glen Ridge, NJ USA 07-29-12 Member Since 2001

    Avid reader of classics and fiction, history and well-written genre novels. Music lover and huge audiobook fan.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very enjoyable modern but literary novel"

    I thought the narration was really excellent for this story which has many characters, both male and female. The reader had different voices for the different characters which added to my enjoyment of the story and both men and women were believable. I will look for other books read by David PIttu in the future.

    The story has many layers and can be read as a modern story of love and romance alone which in itself is a satisfying part of the book. What I particularly liked about the book as a lover of novels is the meta story which explores the evolution of the novel and the potential of that form in more modern times as the social mores, especially the role of marriage have changed.

    For those who feast on Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope it will be hard to resist a book which opens with the contents of one of the main character's bookshelves and moves forward from there. In fact the story is so ambitious from a literary perspective I feared I would be disappointed. But the structure of the story is its most successful aspect. The author also does a wonderful job of inhabiting the three main characters and making them sympathetic.

    I don't know if readers who don't love novels will love hearing about semiotics and great 19th century novelists, but as someone who does I can highly recommend this book to others like myself. It is not heavy reading but there are a lot of references to 19th century authors and texts and I think literary minded readers may enjoy it more than others.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 12-04-11
    Amanda Phoenix, AZ, United States 12-04-11 Member Since 2010

    I rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Great Deal More Than Meets The Eye"

    I repeatedly disregarded this selection, worried it would be a trite romance story that would have little to engage me. I was wrong.

    The year is 1982, and three young people are graduating from Brown University. They have qualities that are often found in young graduates; very sure of their own opinions, very proud of their own intellect, and perhaps a bit unaware of their own self-indulgence. Most of us have been there; it's easy for the world to appear "black and white" when you're young.

    For me, this book was a beautiful, smart, and effective novel of how people transition from those qualities, to adults that better understand the difficult, complicated realities of the "real world". The story is everything the characters are not; it's self aware, humble, and honest. It took situations that are often glossed over or romanticized, and instead presented them in realistic terms; addressing mental illness, poverty, and the unexpected consequences that so often follow rash decisions. It was refreshing to see these presented as they really are.

    This could sound like a depressing topic; but the book was far from it. It was funny, sensitive, and insightful. The story begins at Brown, but travels to France, Monaco, Greece, and India. The unique way the narrative moves backwards and forwards in time highlighted how often we work off of partial information; having you form one opinion of an event, only to go back later and provide more information that may make you re-think your opinion.

    I loved this book. For me, it's one of those novels that makes it hard to pick the next book, because you don't want another one - you want more of this story, of these people. I'm so glad I finally gave it a chance.

    36 of 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nate Jackson, MS, United States 04-07-13
    Nate Jackson, MS, United States 04-07-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Not pretentious; just smart."
    What made the experience of listening to The Marriage Plot the most enjoyable?

    Some have called this book pretentious, but I think anytime an author's main characters are moderately intelligent, it can turn off the more pedestrian among us. I am tired of reading about dumb people, and also quite glad to see the brokenness and truth with which Eugenides handles his characters, as well as the inter-relationships and complexities of smart college students trying to find themselves. To the first half of this book I would give a solid 5 stars, but somehow it gets a tad tedious yet still very well-written in the latter half. This man has chops, and I am definitely picking up Middlesex soon. As for the reader, Pittu blows the door off its hinges by smoothly transitioning between characters, gender, and accents. I would love to hear more from him.


    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    deborah Saint Paul, MN, United States 11-08-11
    deborah Saint Paul, MN, United States 11-08-11 Member Since 2003

    Say something about yourself! I am a runner and avid listener to books. Audible allow me to do my two favorite things at the same time.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Falling in Love never changes"
    Would you listen to The Marriage Plot again? Why?

    I enjoyed listening once because it brought back memories from my college days. It reminded me of the love and learning as well as the conflicts we had. I guess they were not so unique and rather universal in nature. It is a good single listen but not a classic book.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I liked the development of the three characters and the trajectories that Eugenides traced. The use of 3 different voices was compelling and added depth.


    What about David Pittu’s performance did you like?

    He did a good job even with the women he portrayed.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I wanted to drag this listen out because it over along like a good conversation with a friend and I didn't want it to end.


    Any additional comments?

    If you went to college in the late 70's and early 80's this will have many reference points and memories of the times. I almost forgot about Semiotics. Oh my how could that be. Also he did a good job portraying Bipolar Disorder, especially the struggle between stability and the serious side effects of medications.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lawrence Monroeville, PA, United States 10-15-11
    Lawrence Monroeville, PA, United States 10-15-11 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Pride and Prejudice, updated"

    Having enjoyed listening to audiobooks of Jeffrey Eugenides’ first two novels, "The Virgin Suicide" and "Middlesex," I looked forward to this one.

    What exactly is a “marriage plot”? We encounter it frequently in novels and films. Wikipedia defines it as follows: “Marriage plot is a term used, often in academic circles, to categorize a storyline that recurs in novels most prominently and in films most recently. Until the expansion of marriage rights to same-sex couples, this plot centered exclusively on the courtship rituals between a man and a woman and the obstacles that faced the potential couple on its way to the nuptial payoff. The marriage plot became a popular source of entertainment in the 18th and 19th centuries with the rise of the bourgeois novel. The foremost practitioners of the form include some of the more illustrious names in English letters, among them Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontë sisters.”

    As I listened to the travails of the young, Ivy League, literati in Eugenides version of a modern day marriage plot, I thought no so much of the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James, but of the many times Shakespeare used it in his plays: by my count 23. Eugenedes puts his own spin on the marriage plot and does so in fast paced, clearly written, and enjoyable fashion. If I had one criticism, it is that his third novel does not have the same subtle Kalfkaesque strangeness which the subject matter of his first two novels afforded (suicide in "The Virgin Suicides," and genetic variation in "Middlesex"). It seemed Eugenedes attempted to use the topics of religion (Mitchell ) and mental illness (Leonard) to achieve the same effect, but fell a little short. This might have been from Eugenides' pre-conceived plan to pay homage to earlier novelists rather than create something new and non-derivative. Still, I enjoyed this novel enough to give it the highest marks.

    With regard to the narrator’s performance, I don’t think he could have done a better job. His casting was perfect, and you could always tell which character was speaking.

    56 of 67 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gita 01-01-12
    Gita 01-01-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved but Middlesex but Hated This Book"
    What disappointed you about The Marriage Plot?

    I was bored to death by the shallow and uninteresting characters and the glacial movement of the story. I recognize that the characters are intentionally pretentious but I had no patience for them. I gave up on it -- and I rarely quit on books -- after a couple of hours and moved on to The Sense of an Ending, which was wonderful.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Jeffrey Eugenides again?

    Yes, in the hope that he might replicate his earlier brilliance in Middlesex.


    What three words best describe David Pittu’s voice?

    pleasant, appropriate, versatile


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Marriage Plot?

    The entire book was was a bore.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Denise Montclair, NJ, United States 11-21-11
    Denise Montclair, NJ, United States 11-21-11 Member Since 2008
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    "Another great book from Jeffrey Eugenides"

    As soon as I finished listening I began the book again. This is an excellent read, very complex, with many literary references, but it's OK if one doesn't get them all. Great snapshots of early adulthood angst as well as middle age parenthood, done with some humor. The narrator is excellent.

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dorothy 03-10-14
    Dorothy 03-10-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fantastic Comtemporary Twist on the Marriage Plot"
    If you could sum up The Marriage Plot in three words, what would they be?

    Expectant. Youthful. Attraction.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Marriage Plot?

    The description of the the alums lining up on graduation day reminded me of my daughter's graduation from a similar school. One old alum is described in Madeline's mind as a 'bog person" and it made me laugh out loud. Since I attended college during this exact time period, the book felt very nostalgic. I think he captured the era, the late 70's early 80's perfectly.


    What about David Pittu’s performance did you like?

    I adore David Pittu. I avoided reading this book due to the mediocre reviews it received. What a shame! Yet, I loved David Pittu's reading of the Goldfinch SO MUCH, I decided to try this one just because I enjoy him so much. He reads Northeastern charachters so well and I enjoy his interpretation of women more than so many other male readers. I love Mitchell's voice and Madeline's mother.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    "What if Mr.Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett really weren't meant for each other after all..."


    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book. I loved it more than Middlesex. I think many of the tepid reviews are a result of intellectual jealousy and bias. I found this book to be incredibly thought provoking and the author's ability to convey the inner turmoil and intellectual struggles of young, newly graduated twenty somethings was moving and something I found myself remembering about my own post graduate experience. I am an amateur Victorianist myself and great lover of Jane Austen, Eliot and Trollope. This novel is perfectly constructed as a 'marriage plot" novel. It reminded me at times of Middlemarch. The twist comes at the end and is quite real and very human. I also loved the refreshing exploration of spirituality the character Mitchell indulges in. It was not gratuitous in the least. I really did enjoy this book and listened to it in two sittings.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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