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The Marriage Plot: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jeffrey Eugenides
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (658 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Book of 2011
A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Best Fiction of 2011 Title
One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2011
A Salon Best Fiction of 2011 title
One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books of the Year 2011

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 eighteenth-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 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? 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.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent. --Chris Schluep

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)



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

"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)




Product Details

  • File Size: 742 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 125001476X
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 11, 2011)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0050IERQA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,285 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
355 of 403 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
While I accept the premise of "The Marriage Plot" in literature, the claustrophobic world of Rhode Island's Brown University campus, the intimacies of the three protagonists and the endless particulars of the author's descriptions, I struggle throughout the novel to maintain interest in the characters as they act out the author's theme in real life, a formula writ long ago. The story begins with Madeleine Hanna's graduation ceremony, a girl fascinated with Victorian writers Jane Austen, George Eliot and Henry James, the ease and simplicity of regimented society, the men in her life viewed through that romantic prism, the molding of those we love into acceptable roles, a society married its vision of success. Life never delivers the expected, however- sometimes not even the acceptable- but Madeleine finds refuge in Victorian conventions, Eugenides waxing nostalgic for the putative good old days of the eighties, expounding freely on the college experience, laced liberally with the students' penchant for breaching intellectual boundaries, Greek life, a social milieu thriving in a mild political environment.

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.
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824 of 949 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of Annoying November 4, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Wow. I consider myself fairly intelligent and with at least an average knowledge of books and authors. But reading The Marriage Plot made me realize how dumb I really am. Every other sentence contains an obscure literary or philosophical reference of which I have never heard. I'm quite interested in the three main characters--the woman and two men in the "love triangle" that begins in their 1980s college years at Brown University--but I can barely get through the constant allusions to philosophical and fictional literary "tropes" (I looked it up.)

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.
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238 of 273 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Knot than Plot October 17, 2011
Format:Hardcover
One is led to expect it - a new novel by a much-hyped author following on a earlier success. For a number of reasons, I'm glad I read and finished this novel; at the same time however, I'm left dissatisfied and disappointed.

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.
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86 of 99 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the Dark Woods November 27, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I had such high hopes for this novel. I loved Middlesex, and was an English major at an Ivy league school in the 80's - I figured it was made for me. I even had comp lit and lit criticism background, so was ready to dig in. I think the fault might be rooted in the characters - as other reviewers have said, it was hard to CARE about any of them. The beautiful heroine who can get any boy but of course falls for the one who can never make her happy, her privileged family, the depressed but interesting boyfriend. At no point did any of these characters feel real or even convincing. Of the 4000 students at my college, 3990 were more interesting than Madeline and Leonard. They felt more like overdrawn portraits of someone's imagined college roommates rather than any actual character who might have attended Brown in the 80's. The pacing was odd too - the beginning was very weighted down in the college experience with a bit of a jaunt through literary criticism - this was dry to say the least. At times, I had flashbacks to reading the semioticians, deconstructionists (did my share of Derrida and Eco) but the author's prose often felt pedantic for pedantic's sake without adding much to the plot. In fact, I felt like I was reading Kristeva (not a good thing) as the narrative become a bit like a jungle at times. Would I ever make it to the heart of darkness? Barely...after a LOT of college life, suddenly the two lovers marry, go on honeymoon and all hell breaks loose - at the same time, we watch back up boyfriend and follow his peregrinations in India while he tries to work out his own issues, all to win the girl. By the end, as Leonard spiraled into depression, I just didn't care anymore. I felt no sympathy for any of them. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well told story of upper middle class coming of age in the 1980s
Another great tale from Eugenides, notable not so much for the story as for the storytelling and the sense of time and place.
Published 2 hours ago by Barry
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than I thought
Hard for me to read a novel that begins with a college girl with vomit on her dress, but I came back to it. For me it picked up at about the halfway mark. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Jeanne
4.0 out of 5 stars It was wonderfully written, something for everyone in there
I have ADHD, its hard for me to read books until the end without skimming at parts, but i must say: this book kept my attention the entire time. Read more
Published 5 days ago by AnHella
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful writing but a bit ‘bulky’
I’m always very cautious when I read a literary fiction book. I know that I won’t like some things of it. I imagine that the ending could be very sad. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Anakina
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the read.
Not worth the read. Story is slow
Published 15 days ago by erica cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
An engaging tale that wove a discussion of ideas into a story of rich characters
Published 16 days ago by David N Spergel
1.0 out of 5 stars Leaves one dissatisfied and disappointed
While the novel starts off in a promising way and the writer can entertain, satirize and provide insights into the way young college students understand and question literature and... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Long term customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
ok
Published 21 days ago by Dorothy Bracchi
5.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy reader...
...which is why I love this book. I can easily see this becoming a modern literary classic. So many books have so little substance these days. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Kathryn R. Burkay
5.0 out of 5 stars A hard read
Brilliant work read it with a student ! This is all about letting go of what we think we know as well
As the need to be right and in charge! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Janet Anne
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More About the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux to great acclaim in 1993, and he has received numerous awards for his work.

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