Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book is a difficult one to review as never before have I had such a giant change of heart towards a book as I’ve read it; initially I hated it and dithered about over whether to forget it entirely but I persevered until the 30% mark and I’m very glad I did as I grew to love it. It wasn’t until that point that it hit me what this book is really about beneath all of the technical academic terms and the dislikeable main characters, growing up.

P.S. Blink 182’s greatest hits make a great soundtrack to this book, you’ll see what I mean if you read it!

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“The Marriage Plot is set in the early 1980s and it follows three intelligent American graduates through a love triangle as they struggle with their own identities, answer some of life’s tougher questions about love, religion, hardship and mental illness (to name a few) and the transition from education to ‘real life’ and adolescence into adulthood.

What’s good about it?
There were scenes in this book that had me crying, not because they were particularly sad or heart-warming but because Eugenides managed to show the character’s emotions, mental states and reactions to their experiences in an incredibly authentic way. If you wish to know what it’s like to have someone close to you suffer from a mental illness or to have a mental illness yourself then you should really give this book a try as there is little fiction out there that conveys it as well as The Marriage Plot.
In this book, you follow each character’s journey as they try to find their own identity and answer questions about life and its meaning – the perk of this is that it will probably help you answer questions of your own or at least, provoke the curiousity to ask them.
The academic references and discussions were a major pull for me but I’m pretty biased since I’m a full-on nerd. For me, the focus on feminism and theology was brilliant but The Marriage Plot gives many topics a try and does it wonderfully by applying things you’d normally learn in a university lecture hall to realistic everyday life situations.

What isn’t so great?
The Marriage Plot will bog you down with technical language unless you happen to have an advanced knowledge in literature, theology and biology (not a common mix). This has put so many people off the book that I’m surprised someone didn’t tell Eugenides to peg it down a few notches as it makes it quite a drab read at times. This alone almost made me put down the book as it feels incredibly pretentious but don’t despair! Though it’s a marked downside, all the jargon and concepts actually add to the whole effect of the book so it’s worth persevering through them if you can, particularly as they might touch on something that you never realised interests you.
Another downside to The Marriage Plot is that the characters aren’t very likeable, particularly in the beginning. It took me ages to connect with them and even still they just didn’t really come to life off the page for me until I was almost finished reading. Without liking the characters all that much, it’s very hard to care at all about the love triangle which, though meant to be the main plot, becomes more of an annoying obstacle that just exists to keep the characters loosely linked together.

The Marriage Plot a very easy book to hate on first glance but somehow, it’s up there with my favourites. If you take a chance and read this book and it doesn’t do a thing for you then that’s too bad, peg it down to a lost couple of hours. However, if your chance pays off then you’ll see The Marriage Plot in a whole new way and it’ll probably change your life.”

(Read 23rd – 28th May, 2015)

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