The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“…After Leonard (like every guy) had immediately fallen asleep, leaving her to lie awake stroking his head and vaguely hoping she didn’t get a urinary tract infection, Madeleine asked herself if the fact that she’d just spent the whole night worrying wasn’t, in fact, a surefire sign that she was falling in love.”

Nervously, saying ‘hi’ to Jeffrey Eugenides at the library this past October. Holy hell, it was a long signing line!

The Marriage Plot is about three Brown students in the 1980s: Madeleine Hanna, an English major so WASP-y she has one thrift store shirt reserved for party attire; Leonard Bankhead, Madeleine’s brilliant but manic depressive boyfriend; and Mitchell Grammaticus, a Theology major who is hopelessly in love with Madeleine (she kinda treats him like shit). The plot follows their interactions through senior year and the year after graduation. It’s a romantic triangle but with an untidy ending.

I loved this book, though it has the unique quality of being the only novel I’ve enjoyed without really caring for the characters. They’re well-written, with Leonard being the most appealing, but I got the impression the author wasn’t concerned with making them likeable. (Which isn’t to say he wasn’t concerned with establishing a background- every detail down to their childhood wallpaper is accounted for.) It’s Eugenides’s smart writing style and unusual way of building the story around literary references that makes The Marriage Plot great. Personally, I never fully grasped the semiotics approach but Madeleine’s devotion to Barthes struck a chord and I thought the selected quotes worked well to tie themes together… surprisingly, they really lighten up what’s essentially a story about a doomed relationship.

5 thoughts on “The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

    • They’re too of my favorite books too! I love how each of his books offers such different subject matter/perspective. Lots of readers think all the semiotics and academia make The Marriage Plot a little snotty but don’t let that put you off. I’m an English major who didn’t even know ‘Barthes’ was pronounced ‘Bart’ and the writing still swept me away.

  1. I love Jeffrey Eugenides! Middlesex is one of my favourite books ever, have you read it? i’ve wanted to read this one for a while and just haven’t got around to it. I know what you mean about it being odd to like a book but hate the characters; I read a Jonathon Franzen book recently that was the same. I loathed everyone in it but the book was brilliant!

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