≡ Menu

Review: ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

Review: ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides post image

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2011
Acquired: Library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: A marriage plot is a particular kind of English novel , written by the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot, where the central conflict of the book centers around whether or not the heroine will end up married. Those are the kinds of stories that fascinate Madeline, the central heroine of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, and are the topic of her senior thesis. However, during the early 1980s, those kinds of stories just aren’t en vogue anymore, instead being replaced by deconstruction and the growing field of semiotics.

While Madeline is learning to deconstruct the very idea of love in her classes, she’s also finding herself in the middle of a love triangle of her own. In one corner is Leonard, a philosophy and biology major with his own secret battles. In the other is Mitchell, a long-time friend who believes he is destined to marry Madeline but is also on his way to study abroad and explore his own questions about love and God.

Given that summary, it’s not surprising that The Marriage Plot is both a traditional marriage plot story and a deconstruction of the entire idea, trying to answer some big questions: “Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce?”

I was completely drawn into the beginning of this book. I think Eugenides did a really remarkable job capturing this crazy time right around college graduation where the world seems both limitless and totally terrifying and that combination of feelings makes you do some crazy things.

The middle meandered a bit for me. It was interesting, but also maybe a bit too long. I did appreciate that Eugenides didn’t shy away from making his characters both selfish and foolish when it was warranted because that’s how people can be. I can’t speak to how well he captured Mitchell’s religious journey or Leonard’s battle with his illness, but I do think he got Madeline exactly right.

But then I loved the ending, when the stories started to come together and there was some fun metafiction about the idea of a marriage plot. Eugenides resisted having too many meta-moments in the book, but I kept waiting for them. When it happened at the end I almost cheered because I was just waiting and waiting for it to happen. So on the whole, a bit meandering but definitely a book to give a chance if the plot sounds intriguing to you.

Other Reviews: Shelf Love | Reviews by Lola | nomadreader | Fizzy Thoughts | Forever Overhead | Caribousmom |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Wendy December 5, 2011, 11:13 am

    Terrific review – I loved this book so much. I could totally relate to the time period because I graduated from college in 1982. Here is my review: http://www.caribousmom.com/2011/11/30/the-marriage-plot-book-review/

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:40 pm

      That’s such a cool connection to the book! I didn’t feel much like the book felt very 1982 to me — a lot of what the kids were dealing with seemed very contemporary.

  • Jackie (Farm Lane Books) December 5, 2011, 1:17 pm

    It sounds as if we had very similar thoughts on this one. I also loved the beginning and the end, but found the middle bit dragged a bit.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:43 pm

      Yeah, just a little bit. It wasn’t bad, I just felt like each section went on about 10 or 20 pages longer than I wanted it too 🙂

  • Andi December 5, 2011, 2:03 pm

    Totally wanna read it now even though I’ve been bound and determined not to. Eugenides and I have a rocky past, so we’ll see if this book can elevate our relationship.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:43 pm

      This book definitely isn’t Middlesex — whether that’s good to bad to you, I’m not sure 🙂

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) December 5, 2011, 3:43 pm

    My book club is talking about reading this one – it sounds like it would make for a great discussion.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:44 pm

      I think it would. All of the characters make the sorts of questionable decisions that make for great discussions.

  • Teresa December 5, 2011, 6:20 pm

    I’m so glad you liked this. I can see why it might feel flabby in the middle, but I found what was happening to be so riveting that I didn’t mind.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:46 pm

      It wasn’t the worst thing ever, that’s for sure. I just felt like it took longer than I wanted for the stories to converge back together.

  • Diane@BibliophileBytheSea December 5, 2011, 8:01 pm

    I rated this one the same as you. I liked it and especially the ending, but it was no Middlesex.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:47 pm

      It’s very different from Middlesex. Part of what I loved about that book was the setting and how well he grabbed it, which just doesn’t really happen in this book to the same extent.

  • Lisa December 5, 2011, 8:54 pm

    I’m always quick to forgive a meandering middle when the ending makes it all worthwhile. Glad to hear that Eugenides is able to to succeed at that. I’m thinking this would make a good book club choice.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:48 pm

      I so very much loved the ending. I was waiting and waiting for some metafiction about the idea of marriage plots, and then the end had it! I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

  • softdrink December 5, 2011, 9:32 pm

    I totally agree on the middle, especially after they went to Cape Cod.

    Have you read Middlesex? I love, love, love that book.

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:48 pm

      I did read Middlesex, maybe last year? I can’t remember. I did really love that book too.

  • Kailana December 6, 2011, 1:23 pm

    I really must read this book. I loved Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, so I am nervous. I hate when that happens!

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:49 pm

      It can be scary! I haven’t read The Virgin Suicides, but I definitely am going to be looking for it.

  • Trisha December 6, 2011, 5:57 pm

    I really need to pick this one up. Like many, many others, I adored Middlesex, and I want to see if I’m a Eugenides fan or just a fan of that one book.

    • Care December 8, 2011, 3:11 pm


    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:49 pm

      Agreed. I think I could call myself a Eugenides fan, since I did like this book overall (with just the quibble on length).

  • Brooks December 7, 2011, 10:30 pm

    Enjoyed your review. I didn’t feel like it got slow in the middle, but I can kind of see how you might have felt that way. As I keep thinking about The Marriage Plot it keeps moving up my Best of 2011 list. My review is here: http://bit.ly/tZxi9u

    • Kim December 11, 2011, 1:50 pm

      I love when books do that. It’s so much fun when you love them more and more the longer you get to think about it.

  • Stephanie December 13, 2011, 3:36 pm

    The ending was what captured me too. It sounds like we had a similar reaction because I also felt like the middle was much slower paced and could probably have been condensed.

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 8:16 pm

      Yeah, maybe just tightened up a little bit, but nothing terrible.

  • Rachelle January 30, 2012, 4:30 pm

    Got this after middlesex and really am enjoying the book. Jeffrey did a great interview with Elaine Charles on the book report radio show so if you want to listen to it I think it would be fun! She always does a good interview. http://bookreportradio.com/archives.html

    • Kim February 4, 2012, 11:21 am

      Cool, thanks for the link!