I think it’s time I genuinely asked this question; I know I have before in a casual way but now I really want to know. Do you get a little “too” absorbed in books? When I say “too” absorbed, the following criteria (or maybe you have other symptoms) come to mind:
- You are no longer aware of where or who you are while reading
- You have trouble focusing on reality for 5-20 minutes after you’ve finished reading, especially when only midway through
- You snap or get annoyed if someone interrupts your reading
- You get so involved with the characters that you feel pain if they feel pain
- When intense stream-of-consciousness(esque) books give you a headache but you can’t help but continue
- When characters of certain book become your family/best friends
- When you cannot read a book about topics that are a little too personal because you get extra upset and equate it to everything in your own life
- You don’t read the novel, you live it
Anyone? If it’s just me, that’s a touch disturbing. If not, don’t worry–you’re clearly not alone!
Throughout my reading of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, I couldn’t stop thinking of one word: cerebral. It was so cerebral! Since the book was the exact opposite of what I was expecting it to be, I’ll just explore a couple of my main running thoughts and then talk a bit about the characters.
1. When I heard word of this book back in October or so, I presumed it was heavy commercialized fiction with a fun modern-day Austen twist and a happy ending. Clearly I didn’t read the synopsis well enough. Just to be sure, I JUST read the synopsis again and yep, I still presume it’s a romantic comedy-type fiction book. Let me just say it is most definitely not. The book takes place in the 80s, which is a period that I haven’t read into very deeply. It’s coming off the highs of the flower-power, hippie generation and the characters are trying to understand the meaning of religion behind the whole “peace to all” concept, and women are finding their legs as equals to men in society. Yes there’s love, but it’s more of a manic, desperate, and confused love than anything else.
2. The plot revolves around three main characters–Madeleine Hanna, Leonard Bankhead, and Mitchell Grammaticus. If I ever got the chance to meet or speak with Eugenides, I would ask what inspired the name Grammaticus. I kept thinking of the Ancient Greek grammarian every time I read his last name, but Mitchell was the one wrapped up in the religious throws of the novels. I’ll explore their characters in a bit.
3. Having just graduated college (or as the Canadians say, university), I felt very tied to Madeleine’s thoughts, memories, and fears for the first half of the book. In the second half, things get way out of hand and that’s not the turn that my life has experienced quite yet. The book didn’t lose any reality with that turn, it just explored the road not taken by myself.
4. If you ever took English or Religious Studies classes in college, you will feel a definite draw to this book. There is name dropping in the form of great thinkers, authors, books, and philosophers like no other. The characters have been shaped and undone by what they have read and continue to read after college. It was really quite amazing to watch and had me thinking back to and analyzing every class I took to fulfill my English minor. This time, it wasn’t the standard “You are what you read” ploy, it was more an exposure of how reading makes you question everything about yourself and the world. Never underestimate the power of the written word.
5. I tried to make sense of the connection between the title and the text but I couldn’t. This made me feel like an inadequate English minor student again. There was no love story, in my opinion. It was more a story of fear, insecurity, obsessiveness, despair, desperation, and doubt. Did love ever really enter into it? I think so in the form of unrequited love, but otherwise I’m not quite sure. Nobody was plotting to marry anybody, that’s for certain. Or maybe I was so involved in the story that I became as clueless and obsessed as some of the characters and didn’t realize an overall pattern or theme. I hope to hear thoughts on this one!
6. At the end of the book, I can classify it as a coming of age story. Interestingly enough, most coming of age stories are not focused on college graduates aka adults. Yet here we are, deep in The Marriage Plot and these three characters have no idea who they are or what they can do about themselves. It’s a battle between what they think is good for them versus what ultimately is good for them.
Characters: I don’t usually do this for my blog posts but this is more to organize my own thoughts than anything. I always post directly after reading, so sometimes thoughts get jumbled up but at least they’re fresh!
Madeleine Hanna: English major, just graduated. The novel opens and we see Madeleine in a hot mess of hangover, shame, and regret, scrambling to meet her parents for graduation breakfast. Very relatable. Probably the person I related to the most out of the three main characters. Her personal growth does seem a bit stunted through most of the novel until the very last page (but I guess everyone’s is in this novel). We see a lot of her internal struggle, often through the eyes of the other two protagonists, but she doesn’t break out of her patterns until the last sentence. I identified with her because I understood her reasoning behind everything she did; it always seemed like something I may have done. The only difference is I learned my lessons sophomore year of college while she painfully only began her life lessons after graduation. Until then, everything was just an experimental, English textbook blur. Still, I sympathized and felt for her. She had to go through the experiences mentioned to become the person we leave off with as we close the book.
Leonard Bankhead: I can picture him from head to toe 100% because his erratic (but not depressive) behaviour reminds me of a guy I used to know in college. Now I question that guy’s actions more than ever, but that’s beside the point. Leonard is a manic depressive and the product of a very broken, dysfunctional home. It’s clear through the book that he never quite has a hold on himself throughout the book; at his best he is barely holding himself together. However, that best is witty, impulsive, sexy, reckless–everything a college kid needs to stay interesting to his peers. Except he’s not in college anymore, and for the most part he’s lost control over that part of himself. His was the hardest part to read because it was so raw and descriptive, I was completely inside his head and actually had a headache and slight nausea the entire time. Mark of a good writer or a good reader? I’ll say both.
Mitchell Grammaticus: He was the nut I couldn’t crack. Hopelessly in love with Madeline (or so we are led to believe), he does what every laid-back college kid aims to do after graduation–he travels the world. We follow his journey from France to Athens to India (where I’m from; very accurate and interesting descriptions) with great interest. What I found more interesting to follow was his journey to “find himself”. At least, that’s what I’m presuming he was doing. Coming out with a strong religious studies background, he seeks to really understand Christianity. There’s a lot of Mother Theresa involved when the book focuses on Mitchell’s point of view and a lot of religious and social questioning. It was hard to read parts, especially when he was in Calcutta trying to help the sick because I felt his need to help and completely understood/sympathized with his urge to run away from the hopelessness of the victims. The striking part is that in 2012, not much has changed in those circumstances in India. At the end of the book, Mitchell gets realization in one aspect of his life and maybe that’s the part that he needed the most in order to be able to achieve the rest.
I included these summaries in my review because the book flips between each person’s past and their present points of view. This is the part that made me aware of some of those bullet points I mentioned at the beginning of the post. I do get tremendously involved in books, so much so that I’m in the characters mind. I think Eugenides did a brilliant job of describing the mental anguish each of these three characters felt through the book, because I’m still feeling it! The book was not at all what I was expecting and if I had known what it was about, I probably wouldn’t have read it. When I closed the book, I was incredibly dissatisfied and upset with the way it ended, more because it got so personal for me. Then I realized that it ended exactly as it should have and exactly as it would have if the story were about me. It’s not always the happy ending, sometimes it’s just an acceptance and the strength to take the necessary steps forward.
*Note: You may find it odd that when I’m iffy or dissatisfied with a book from my personal point of view, I usually give it a 5 star recommendation rate. That’s because I am very curious to know how other people felt about it and gets some more opinions. You can always keep learning from a book, even after you’re done reading! There, now you know the reason.