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The Marriage Plot: A Novel Hardcover – October 11, 2011
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“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
“No one's more adept at channeling teenage angst than Jeffrey Eugenides. Not even J. D. Salinger . . . It's in mapping Mitchell's search for some sort of belief that might fill the spiritual hole in his heart and Madeleine's search for a way to turn her passion for literature into a vocation that this novel is at its most affecting, reminding us with uncommon understanding what it is to be young and idealistic, in pursuit of true love and in love with books and ideas.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“This is a story about being young and bright and lost, a story Americans have been telling since Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Our exceptionally well-read but largely untested graduates still wonder: How should I live my life? What can I really believe in? Whom should I love? Literature has provided a wide range of answers to those questions--Lose Lady Brett! Give up on Daisy! Go with Team Edward!--but in the end, novels aren't really very good guidebooks. Instead, they're a chance to exercise our moral imagination, and this one provides an exceptionally witty and poignant workout.” ―Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“If there is a writer to whom Eugenides appears connected, it is not Wallace but Jonathan Franzen. They are less than a year apart in age, and while Franzen got a head start, the two, who are both with the same publisher, are on similar publishing schedules. Last year, Franzen's Freedom was a bestseller; like The Marriage Plot, it's a robust, rich story of adults in a love triangle. Eugenides benefits by the comparison: This book is sweeter, kinder, with a more generous heart. What's more, it is layered with exactly the kinds of things that people who love novels will love.” ―Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“Eugenides steers effortlessly through the intertwining tales of his three protagonists, shifting seamlessly among their three viewpoints and overlapping their stories in a way that's easy to follow and never labored. His prose is smooth but never flashy, and his eye for the telling detail or gesture is keen. Slowly but confidently he fleshes out his characters, and as they slowly accrue weight and realism, readers will feel increasingly opinionated about the choices they make . . . It's heavy stuff, but Eugenides distinguishes himself from too many novelists who seem to think a somber tone equates to a serious purpose. The Marriage Plot is fun to read and ultimately affirming.” ―Patrick Condon, San Francisco Chronicle
“Eugenides, a master storyteller, has a remarkable way of twisting his narrative in a way that seems effortless; taking us backward and forward in time to fill in details . . . For these characters, who don't live in Jane Austen's world, no simple resolution will do for them in the world. And yet you close this book with immense satisfaction--falling in love just a bit yourself, with a new kind of marriage plot.” ―Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
“Jeffrey Eugenides, in his glorious new novel, mines our thrall and eternal unease around sex, love and marriage . . . At its core, The Marriage Plot is besotted with books, flush with literary references. It seems coyly designed to become the volume all former English majors take to their breasts.” ―Karen Long, The Plain Dealer
“There has been a storybook quality to much American fiction recently--larger-than-life, hyper-exuberant, gaudy like the superhero comics and fairy tales that have inspired it. By sticking to ordinary human truth, Eugenides has bucked this trend and written his most powerful book yet.” ―Zachary Lazar, Newsday
“Befitting [Eugenides's] status as that rare author who bridges both highbrow book clubs and best-seller lists, his third novel is a grand romance in the Austen tradition--one that also deconstructs the very idea of why we'd still find pleasure in such a timeworn narrative style. It's a book that asks why we love to read, yet is so relentlessly charming, smart and funny that it answers its own question.” ―David Daley, USA TODAY
“There are serious pleasures here for people who love to read.” ―Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize–winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel--and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes)--conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger--and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Theresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them.” ―Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
“In Eugenides' first novel since the Pulitzer Prize–winning Middlesex (2002), English major and devotee of classic literature Madeleine Hanna is a senior at Reagan-era Brown University. Only when curiosity gets the best of her does she belly up to Semiotics 211, a bastion of postmodern liberalism, and meet handsome, brilliant, mysterious Leonard Bankhead. Completing a triangle is Madeleine's friend Mitchell, a clear-eyed religious-studies student who believes himself her true intended. Eugenides' drama unfolds over the next year or so. His characteristically deliberate, researched realization of place and personality serve him well, and he strikes perfectly tuned chords by referring to works ranging from Barthes' Lovers' Discourse to Bemelmans' Madeline books for children. The remarkably à propos title refers to the subject of Madeleine's honors thesis, which is the Western novel's doing and undoing, in that, upon the demise, circa 1900, of the marriage plot, the novel ‘didn't mean much anymore,' according to Madeleine's professor and, perhaps, Eugenides. With this tightly, immaculately self-contained tale set upon pillars at once imposing and of dollhouse scale, namely, academia (‘College wasn't like the real world,' Madeleine notes) and the emotions of the youngest of twentysomethings, Eugenides realizes the novel whose dismantling his characters examine.” ―Annie Bostrom, Booklist (starred review)
“A stunning novel--erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships. Eugenides focuses primarily on three characters, who all graduate from Brown in 1982. One of the pieces of this triangle is Madeleine Hanna, who finds herself somewhat embarrassed to have emerged from a "normal" household in New Jersey (though we later find out the normality of her upbringing is only relative). She becomes enamored with Leonard, a brilliant but moody student, in their Semiotics course, one of the texts being, ironically, Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse, which Madeleine finds disturbingly problematic in helping her figure out her own love relationship. We discover that Leonard had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his first year at Brown, and his struggle with mood swings throughout the novel is both titanic and tender. The third major player is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major who is also attracted to Madeleine but whose reticence she finds both disturbing and incomprehensible. On graduation day, Leonard has a breakdown and is hospitalized in a mental-health ward, and Madeleine shows her commitment by skipping the festivities and seeking him out. After graduation, Leonard and Madeleine live together when Leonard gets an internship at a biology lab on Cape Cod, and the spring after graduation they marry, when Leonard is able to get his mood swings under temporary control. Meanwhile Mitchell, who takes his major seriously, travels to India seeking a path--and briefly finds one when he volunteers to work with the dying in Calcutta. But Mitchell's road to self-discovery eventually returns him to the States--and opens another opportunity for love that complicates Madeleine's life. Dazzling work--Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists.” ―Kirkus (starred review)
“‘The way of true love never works out, except at the end of an English novel.' So says Trollope in Barchester Towers, one of those English novels where ‘the marriage plot' thrived until it was swept aside by 20th-century reality. Now Roland Barthes's contention that ‘the lover's discourse is today of an extreme solitude' better sums up the situation. Or so English literature–besotted Madeleine, 1980s Brown graduating senior, comes to discover. Giving in to the zeitgeist, Madeleine takes a course on semiotics and meets Leonard, who's brilliant, charismatic, and unstable. They've broken up, which makes moody spiritual seeker Mitchell Grammaticus happy, since he pines for Madeleine. But on graduation day, Madeleine discovers that Leonard is in the hospital--in fact, he is a manic depressive with an on-again, off-again relationship with his medications--and leaps to his side. So begins the story of their love (but does it work out?), as Mitchell heads to Europe and beyond for his own epiphanies. VERDICT Your standard love triangle? Absolutely not. This extraordinary, liquidly written evocation of love's mad rush and inevitable failures will feed your mind as you rapidly turn the pages. Highly recommended.” ―Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (starred review)
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Top Customer Reviews
Daughter of privilege, Madeleine possesses natural beauty in abundance, a senior concentrating on her thesis, lately enamored of theory, philosophy and semiotics. She is helpless to resist the enigmatic Leonard Bankhead, who lives frugally and perhaps harbors deeper secrets. The third element of Eugenides' emotional ménage a trios is Mitchell Grammaticus, a young man deeply inspired by religious studies planning to travel to India, hopelessly in love with Madeleine, who sees only Leonard.Read more ›
Go ahead and hate my review if you will. I spent two weeks diligently plowing through 70 pages of this book. I'm sure it is wonderful, will probably win another Pulitzer for its brilliant author. But for me, reading it was like sitting between two members of the literary intelligentsia at a dinner party, as they try to one-up each other with the depth and breadth of their vast knowledge. I was simultaneously bored,lost and annoyed.
This novel seemed a pale shadow of his earlier work Middlesex - both in the writing and the plot. Young female protagonist gets saddled with an infirm fiance/husband and who then lives in a quandary - sounds a lot like Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier. But that's where the resemblance ends. While Packer packed (!) an emotional punch with her deeply nuanced rendering of her protagonist's emotional life and in the process humanized her despite her evident flaws, Eugenides' rendering and characterization of HIS protagonist as well as the other characters by contrast revealed rather thin silhouettes.
It may be an effect of the novel's overall tone and voice; Eugenides assumes a chipper and distantly objective voice in dissecting his characters' inner voices and emotional turmoil, mental lives and activities. His cool, shrink-like/God-like stance however keeps us at a distance and thus from empathizing with their travails despite at times sympathetic portrayals; instead of being drawn into the felt hurts and rawness of their dilemmas, there was a constant underlying thrum reminding me of who they were in the times they lived in (early 1980s) i.e. privileged and self-absorbed college graduates without especially great financial concerns or obligations other than to themselves and what they felt entitled to. There was a diffuse sense of their sophomoric attitudes, jejune concerns and overall busy-ness in tending to themselves and nursing their mental images of each other, such that when reality intruded in a big way, they were all hugely unmatched.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Mitchell, Leonard, and Madeleine are Brown University students in the 1980s, and Mitchell is the odd man out. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Patti
This was a book I absolutely could not put down. I recommend this to any young adult. I also loved the texture of the cover- it looks great on my bookshelf now. Read morePublished 1 month ago by TDG
After the amazing "Middlesex", which I've easily devoured several times, this was the most painstaking, uninteresting, and difficult book to get through. Read morePublished 1 month ago by RedRawr3
In brief: this book was terrible. I did not grow to care about any of the characters at any point. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Brian in Valdosta
Beautiful and distinctly Eugenides. Do also read his masterpiece "Middlesex".Published 2 months ago by Lauren A Bass
This book kept me very interested in the story. I did not like the way it ended.Published 2 months ago by Seasoned