‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

Eugenides writes yet again a novel with sublime language and insight on the very personal level. Yes, this in general starts as a book on literature with with the focus of the “marriage plot” as a relevant or viable plot device in literary fiction.

As a reader, this seems to be more a frame of reference to the story setting (Brown) year (1982-pre high tech communication) and the age of the three characters (graduating college seniors with serious academic achievements). Our characters are leaving the comfort of university life with its comforts of random discourse, trends, deconstructing and reconstructing every subject studied, trends, music, etc. Life as theory and theory as life, as such.

They are essentially leaving the nicely feathered nest to begin living life and making choices, and learning what they are really capable of. Leonard is genius and tragic, Mitchell unsure about his spiritual path, and Madeline is the love interest of both men and she is the most unremarkable and least sympathetic. What follows is a brilliant look at coming to terms with the life we have been dealt, and how it often leads us in circumstances we cannot control, or where we are unable to go despite our desire, aptitude and education or the luck of living in the feathered nest of theory forever.

Rating: 5 stars

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Flash Reviews (13th November 2013)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides ****

‘The Marriage Plot’

I really enjoyed The Virgin Suicides on both occasions which I’ve read it, and I also liked Middlesex.  It was quite obvious, then, that I would be reading The Marriage Plot as soon as I could get my hands upon a copy.  The novel is composed of all the elements which I enjoy in fiction, and intelligence, wit and philosophy abound throughout.  The entirety is well crafted in terms of both its writing and structure.  The settings were described marvellously and the characters all felt realistic.  Whilst I didn’t like many of them – well, in truth, I did not like any of them aside from Mitchell, one of its protagonists – they both interested and intrigued me.  My only qualm with The Marriage Plot was the wholly predictable ending.  Aside from that, I found the novel difficult to put down.

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli ****
I find novels about the Holocaust and World War Two which are told from the perspective of children so very powerful.  When I found out that Spinelli had written one, it made its way onto my to-read list immediately.  I am pleased to say that it was both compelling and harrowing.  Spinelli crafted each of his characters well, and I was particularly fond of Misha and Janina.  I loved Misha’s naivety throughout, and his yearning for self-sufficiency within the Warsaw Ghetto.  He was a very endearing protagonist, and I admire Spinelli greatly for creating him.

Like April, who also read Milkweed at around the same time that I did, I would have given this novel five stars were it not for the rather paltry ending, which I half expected to happen.  I wanted to be completely blown away by it, and think I would have been if the entirety of the book had been left upon a cliffhanger.  The power which this would have created would have been utterly marvellous.  Milkweed made my heart ache with sadness at times, but I did not find it as gutwrenching as it could have been.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome ****
Swallows and Amazons is one of very few books which my sister has actually read and enjoyed, so I felt I just had to borrow it.  I found it marvellously old-fashioned.  The very notion that four young children – the youngest only five years old – would be allowed to camp on a deserted island, sailing and cooking by themselves, seems rather alien to a child of the late twentieth century.  I felt that this was exemplified fourfold when their mother handed them half a dozen packages of matches and left them to it.  This unusual element of the story made it so readable, and I really struggled to put it down.  I loved how adventurous the children were, and it felt rather Blyton-esque to me, as I had both hoped and expected it would.

I found the pace a little plodding at times, and felt that it varied greatly from one chapter to the next.  Several of the passages or even whole sections in a couple of cases were rather superfluous.  Just as I was beginning to think at around the halfway point that the book was becoming a little overdone and rather overworked, elements of greatness crept in once more, and I was hooked.  I very much like the way in which Ransome writes and crafts his tales and characters, and his marvellous building of the atmosphere within the novel.  I wish I had come across Swallows and Amazons when I was younger, and will certainly be reading the rest of the series at some point.


Flash Reviews (29th October 2013)


‘Stargirl’ by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli ****
Stargirl was one of the very first books which I wrote in my original ‘to-read’ notebook when I purchased it back in 2007, and I have only just got around to purchasing and reading it.  I was so excited to begin it after April telling me that the snippets of the story which she had read were beautiful.  Whilst reading, the novel reminded me of Looking for Alaska by John Green in terms of its school-based storyline and quirky characters, and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides with regard to its narrative style.  (Side note: If you have enjoyed either or both of these novels, then go and locate yourself a copy of Stargirl as soon as you can, and don’t stop reading until you have finished it.)

The characters in Stargirl are all incredibly well developed, and I loved how different they were.  Spinelli makes it easy to identify those who are only mentioned once or twice in the narrative due to the original details which he includes.  The characterisation of Stargirl particularly was marvellous.  I loved how quirky and unexpected she was, and the arc of her character development was well constructed and believable, if very sad.  This is a novel which I will certainly be reading again.

Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education by Jane Robinson ****
I find non-fiction books like this fascinating, particularly when they explore education and the suffrage movement in detail (which, incidentally, Bluestockings does).  I loved the way in which Robinson set out the history of the female fight for education, and admired the fact that she based the book only within England and Scotland.  Her use of sources – quotes and case studies – to back up particular facts or statements worked very well, and I was pleased that she did not rely too heavily upon them, as some historical books which I have read in the past have done.  Without the women outlined in Bluestockings, I doubt that I would be as well educated as I am now.  It is thanks to them, really, that all children and young people have the same educational rights and opportunities to study today, regardless of their sex or upbringing.  I am so very grateful for both their determination and their bravery.  A great and highly recommended book.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer ***
I had not planned to read another non-fiction book directly after finishing the marvellous Bluestockings, but it was the first suggestion which I picked out of my handy to-read jar, so I decided to go with it regardless.  The story which Krakauer looks at – that of a young man named Chris McCandless, who donated his savings to Oxfam and then disappeared into the Alaskan wilderness, his whereabouts relatively unknown until his body was found some time afterwards – is interesting, and as I don’t really read true crime books often, it has made me want to explore the genre further.  Despite this, Into the Wild did feel a little lacking in its execution.  Krakauer’s narrative style was a touch dull at times, and I think a little more passion in or enthusiasm for his subject would have made the world of difference.  Although I was keen to learn about McCandless’ story, the writing style meant that I rather struggled to get into it.