The Story: Set in 1982, this one is a love triangle between three graduating students from Brown offering a preppy twist on (surprise, surprise) the marriage plot.
Madeline is a lit major with an unhealthy obsession for the Victorian romance. She wants love to be like it is in the books. She sets out to find herself a broody hero and snags Leonard.
Leonard is a modern Byronic bad boy: impulsive, irritable and manic-depressive. But he’s also roguishly handsome, and before Madeline ‘tames’ him, he had a reputation as the campus bicycle.
Unbeknown to her, Madeline also has another admirer, Mitchell. Unfortunately for Mitchell, he’s fallen into the ‘good friend’ category in Madeline’s book. He’s determined that Madeline will eventually dump sad-sack Leonard and marry him. But after graduation Mitchell is planning to spend a year ‘finding himself’ in India and Madeline, having read one to many Victrian novels, is inclined to marry young.
Why It’s Awesome: I did mention it was by Jeffrey Eugenides, right?
I should say, this is a literary snob of a book. Normally I’m not into wanky lit that requires the reader to have an English PhD, but given this one incorporates Victorian romance and campus fiction (both research subjects of my PhD), I’m inclined to indulge it. There are a lot of flashbacks to the students’ classes, in particular Madeline and Leonard’s shared cultural theory topic, so if you’re not up to speed on your Sassure, Derrida and Barthes, these flashbacks can be more than a little alienating.
However, lit nerds will feel like Eugenides is writing just for them. This book is the Bronte meets bratpack. Love triangle aside, The Marriage Plot is about that awkward time many of us arty types face after uni when we realise we have no clue what the hell we’re supposed to do out in the big wide world.
More Like This: The Marriage Plot is full of intertextuality, so I’m not even going to attempt a ‘suggested additional reading list’. However, it fits into preppy student campus fiction sub-genre, so if it’s to your tastes, try Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons, Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction, Jill Eisenstadt’s From Rockaway and (my favourite) Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
If you’re a Eugenides virgin, you absolutely MUST get your goggles on Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.
Eugenides is one of my absolute favourite writers and I was SO FREAKING EXCITED when I found he had a new book out.
Even better, it’s about a lit. major. At Brown. She studies Victorian romance. SQUEEE!!!
There’s quite a lot of talk about cultural theory, etc. which a lot of readers might find alienating, but for those of you who, like me, struggled through Derrida and Barthes thinking ‘Dear God, why are they making us read this stuff?!’ Well, here’s the answer.
For all the nerds out there, this one’s for us!!!