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 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
“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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere
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.
I am a voracious reader with fairly eclectic taste. I like both fiction and non-fiction, biography, history and current events. I like well written mysteries and suspense and I love 19th and 20th century classical literature as well as modern fiction. My favorite author is Philip Roth but I also love Trollope, Hardy, Jonathan Franzen, Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. My favorite biographer is Robert Caro.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He did a good job even with the women he portrayed.
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.
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.
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.
(also posted on Amazon.com)
I intended to love this book, having waited for it since Middlesex. I am disappointed. I felt like I was reading Franzen's Corrections, which was okay, but I didn't need to read it again; nor did I finish Freedom by Franzen for the same reason. I am disappointed because I had put great stock in JE, and I was sure this next book, so long in coming would be a masterpiece.
What has happened to popular literature? Why is it sufficient to trot out the lives of characters, their intersections and their problems, without the framework of plot -- there is no "desire" here. There is no conflict, and there is no passion.
I am always glad to learn new things. So after the MP I know some little something about yeast cells. I know a little more about manic/depression and I know some things about India which I might not have come to otherwise know.
The parents in this story were cut from the same dough as many others. In this book, and those like it, 20somethings from the 1980s (who would be 50 somethings now) are vapid but brilliant, healthy but unable to follow their own common sense, and they aren't even having a great time with sex. Sex is so tortuous in this book, that it frequently reads like the Indian excrement scene, embarrassing and tragic.
I suppose, as one reviewer put it, if I were of that class, I could identify with it better. I am much older than those characters were in this telling, but I don't lack my own memories from my 20s. We had **fun**. We suffered deeply, we played hard, we felt things, we regretted, we rejoiced. These people don't even get a kick from their privileged education and the exposure to the subjects they chose to study.
Poor Mitchell couldn't measure up to his own standards for being "good." Leo's situation is hopeless. I've known some M/Ds in my life. They function most of the time, they hold jobs and have families, go to school and prevail much of the time -- especially those with two shrinks and constant medication monitoring. This boy, Leonard, was hung out to dry. Maddy took on his illness and became a depressive too. There was nothing to root for in any of them.
So, I am disappointed on many levels. I expected more from the writer of Middlesex. I expected more from the parade of characters, not all of whom were cardboard cut-outs, and I expected some kind of mystery or journey or decision to be made by the hero -- but frankly, I am not sure who the hero/protagonist was.
The point of view changes were very effective, because not one of those characters could have supported the whole book. I was looking for a transition, a convergence of the three into one (metaphorically), but none came.
Maddy gets out of her situation with Leonard. Mitchell must accept her passive rejection and Leo is out running in the woods. While this may represent reality, who gives a s**t?
Addicted to Audible!
I enjoyed listening to this book probably because I am living a little bit of this story with my 3 adult children right now. Eugenides describes them and their peers to a tee, their lifestyle, their behaviors, their beliefs that by being privledged and intellectual they have somehow reinvented life, love, sex, relationships, marriage, work, etc..... I think he did a great job of updating the marriage plot and I was neither bored nor disapointed. This is not, Middlesex, but it has its own merits and I think he succeeds.
I absolutely adored both the Virgin Suicide and Middlesex, and was excited to see that Eugenides had published anew. However, The Marriage Plot is bad in so many ways that I'm shocked. It is simultaneously pretentious and vapid (name-dropping and surface-level discussions of literary theory and spiritual philosophies), and the story is terribly juvenile. It is a story of pedestrian heartbreak, like most failed college relationships, and the characters are so totally plausible that they are boring, generic. I do not care about these people, or their feelings for one another, or their fates. I am also extremely put off by the exclusivity of the hardly-fictionalized, entirely-privileged world of Brown University. This feels like a poorly-executed, love-lorn, man-child's autobiography of Young Love's Dull Persistence.
The narrator did the best he could with the material at hand, but no matter how great an actor/reader you are, it's nearly impossible to make some of this writing come off as natural, or talented. For instance, Eugenides actually uses "shot his load" and "curd of evidence," in all seriousness, in the same sentence, to describe a college boy's frustrated masturbatory experiences. A lot of this novel is just plain graceless.
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