Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Marriage Plot

I know a lot of book bloggers read this one months ago and it's been talked to death, but now that I'm through with my library ban I finally got to read this. I LOVED it. I thought I would like it, but didn't expect to connect with it as much as I did. If it's true that Middlesex is even better, I can't wait to read that one!

Eugenides is a master of language. It's beautifully written, with phrases and sentences to be lingered over, read slowly. I read this so much more slowly than I normally read a book I'm enjoying. I usually start racing through when I like a book, but this one made me keep pausing, rereading a section, thinking, pondering. He is a perfect example of "show, don't tell" as it was perfectly clear this was set in the 80s and that Madeleine is studying literature well before he says so.

I loved the characters, despite, or really, because of, their faults. They seemed so real to me. They are flawed and endearing and alive. I felt more like I was reading a very well written biography instead of a novel. I don't always have to identify with characters to like them or get into a story, but I just connected so much with both Madeleine and Mitchell. Their thoughts just made sense to me, even when they were doing something stupid.

A Marriage Plot felt like a love letter to the Regency/Victorian era novel. Of course, part of that is from Madeleine's position as a literature student who loves that era, but it comes from the novel's structure, it's pacing, it's tone, it's themes. I think it's as close as we can get to one of those novels that's set in the present day. And although most of the time period's novels center around "the marriage plot," not all of them are happy novels either, or have happy tales of first love. Think of Dickens and Eliot - I couldn't help but think of David Copperfield and Dorothea Brooke. Getting what you want isn't always what's best for you.

And, oh! The literary references! I felt like a horrid snob, but couldn't help loving the numerous allusions to literary works and discussion of literary critics. Like Madeleine, I have trouble with a lot of modern literary criticism. In my MA program in English lit, it was made clear you had to buy into these new criticisms or you clearly aren't intelligent. In most of my papers I felt like I had to fake it, to pretend I was a Deconstructionist or New Historicist and analyze texts that way (and I love that Eugenides points that out - these new critics always say "texts" instead of "books") or I wouldn't have been able to successfully complete the program. That was one of the many reasons I decided to stick with the business world instead of pursuing a Ph.D in English. While having that experience did help my sharpen my skills at arguing a point I don't believe in, I would have preferred not to have been made to select from only a few "legit" literary criticisms in most of my classes.

I rarely write down quotes from books, but made note of several passages this time, mostly about the literary criticism issue. "Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won, transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were readers." They went from being unpopular children to pompous adults.

"How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative!" I love some modern works that don't have linear plots - or plots at all - but I feel like the attitude toward traditional narrative is just so stuck up sometimes by those in academia and I loved Madeleine for feeling this way.

"Under the pretense of becoming a critic of patriarchy, Claire uncritically accepted every fashionable theory that came her way." Oh, how I hate this. Nothing drives me crazier than people who just parrot everything a professor would say, or a politician, or whoever, without critically thinking about it for themselves. We all have brains, I just wish more people would use them.

"But the idea of studying theology - of studying anything, as opposed to working nine-to-five appealed to him." Oh Mitchell, I get it. I love my job, but if someone wanted to pay me to read and learn new things all day I would be in heaven.

"The worst thing about religion was religious people." Amen. See note above on people who uncritically accept things.

"If Mitchell was every going to be a good Christian, he would have to stop disliking people so intensely." Guilty.

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