The Marriage Plot

    ‘The Marriage Plot’ illustrates a love triangle worthy of a Greek tragedy. The backdrop to the performance is Brown University, Rhode Island. It’s Graduation Day, Class of 1982.

     

    Madeleine Hanna is an English Literature graduate with two pushy parents and a fascination with the Victorian novel. In one corner is Madeleine’s boyfriend, Leonard Bankhead, a scientist and manic-depressive. In the other corner is Mitchell Grammaticus, fighting for Madeline’s heart. Majoring in religious studies, he chooses to alleviate the pains of unrequited love by travelling across Europe and Asia and experiencing different religious cultures.

     

    All are united in their passion for their subject. All are at a loss, not knowing what they want to do with their lives - the wretched story of every graduate.

     

    Books and literature are central to the novel. Eugenides litters the text with references to classic fiction, scientific study and important religious writings. ‘The Marriage Plot’ itself is a remodelling and modernisation of the marriage plot typical of Victorian literature, packed with contemporary issues not frequented in nineteenth-century fiction.

     

    Parallels can certainly be drawn between ‘The Marriage Plot’ and David Nicholls’ Galaxy Book of the Year 2010 ‘One Day.’

     

    Like Emma and Dexter, Jeffrey Eugenides’ characters experience those conditions that go hand-in-hand with graduating; the pains of love, a tight budget, the involvement of parents and the realisation that life is no fairytale. The novel is consequentially rich in anger, lust, anxiety, fear and disappointment.

     

    ‘The Marriage Plot’ does, however, pursue the characters’ lives in the few years following Graduation as opposed to the twenty years of ‘One Day.’ This allows Eugenides to explore his characters and their prospects in a great depth, giving us multifaceted and complex characters to understand. The novel is also comprehensive in its construction, jumping back to previous narrative and offering events from another character’s perspective.

     

    It does, however, lack the humour of ‘One Day’ and the characters of ‘The Marriage Plot’ are not quite as likeable as Dexter and Emma. The convoluted structure can also be a little frustrating and repetitive at times, mulling over past events rather than offering a sense of progression.

     

     Unpredictable and personal, ‘The Marriage Plot’ captures life’s difficulties as seen through the lives of young people with ambitions and expectations. It is a poignant, heart-rending and testing read.

     

    Reviewed by Lucy Richards, an English Literature graduate who consumes books almost as fast as 400g slabs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I blog, I read and I drink tea as I stumble my way through life. I am, in a nutshell, Jane Eyre in training.

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