Tag Archives: The Marriage Plot

EUGENIDESTRUCTION 2012

Steven: Well Fay, your favourite/the worst book of the tournament is out.  HOW DOES IT FEEL?  Look, this isn’t a chatz format, let the readership know that I wrote these arguments in advance giving Fay PLENTY OF TIME to rebut.  (Fay: while Steven has more time to research, as referenced by his prodigious referencing.) But I hope the truth shines through and that EUGENIDESTRUCTION 2012 is a resounding success.  Allow me to begin with the most glaring fault, Madeleine.  As one of the three central characters, probably the one with the most pages devoted to her, you’d expect her to be more than just a hollow, agency-less shell right?  Noooope.  Madeleine is boring.  Here is what we know about her: she’s preppy, she likes order and neatness but ALSO she secretly loves the punishment of disorder.  Aaaand that’s as far as her depth goes.  To quote Hmgillispie in the ToB comments, “Madeleine has no personality except for her views on literature”.  Amen brudah, and something a number of people seem to have picked up on.  What I’ve seen mentioned a bit in the ToB comments and elsewhere is that the people who like Madeleine either associate her with themselves, or someone they know, thus filling in the gaps in her character.  Fay, if I may be so bold to suggest that you may well fit into this category.  In addition!  Name one thing that Madeleine does in the book that isn’t about either Mitchell or Leonard OH WAIT YOU CAN’T.  Oh sorry, she goes to a conference and decides to study post-grad Victorian literature WHOA SLOW DOWN THERE EUGENIDES!  Throughout the book, all of her actions are precipitated by one of these two men.  She goes to Cape Cod to be with Leonard, and then… actually I’m just going to paste this same argument from a discussion here by Nika Knight at Full Stop: “Even when she scandalizes her mother by moving in with her boyfriend, she’s just following him to a place where she has no job and no goals and no friends. Even when ending her marriage, she does so by acquiescence”.

Fay: Ok let me jump in here for a second. This is a complaint I’ve heard a lot and I think it is by people being thoroughly uncreative and unrealistic. Madeleine is not a Mary Sue! She’s kind of wry, but not particularly funny. She’s pretty  enough to make life easier but is not defined by her looks. She’s smart, but not a genius and not confident enough to voice her thoughts in class. [Steven: So far you’re only kinda ADDING to the boring thing] Quiet you! She’s glad that someone else says ‘Barthes’ first so she doesn’t embarrass herself. You know what that sounds like to me (ok other than me [except for the pretty part], I’ll give you that [Steven: Ha!])? A REAL PERSON. Real people aren’t all stunningly and interestingly characterised, they’re ok at stuff, and nervous and unsure sometimes. [Steven: Agreed!  I’m not asking to read a book about perfect people (if I was I’d just write my autobiography HEYOOO) because that would be boring.  My complaint isn’t that she’s not perfect but that she’s boring.  So all this would be fine as a basis for the character!  But there is no development or journey, no change or transformation.  She stays that way through the whole book, and that’s not enough to make an interesting character.]

And yes, she doesn’t do a lot by herself. May I remind you the book is called The Marriage Plot? It’s a take on the freaking Victorian marriage plot and if Madeleine was full of agency and practical ideas about where her life was going she wouldn’t be at the centre of this book. [Steven: Well, first things first, it’s meant to be a late modern take on the marriage plot which takes feminism into account.  It seems that part was forgotten by Eugenides.  ADDITIONALLY, if the book didn’t remind you every 10 seconds (look here’s the name of a book, aren’t YOU clever) it would just be taken as a good ol’ fashioned love triangle.  FURTHERMORE that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying she has to know everything but I am saying that Eugenides short shrifts her.  I can’t say I’ve read any marriage plot books but I assume the women at their centre aren’t simply the pawns of everyone else for the entire book?  EVEN FURTHER she’s not really at the centre of the book.  It starts as hers but really ends as Mitchell’s, which emphasises all the more her lack of agency.  The book ends, once again, in her simple aquiescence] She follows Leonard because she doesn’t know what else to do with herself. Again, REAL PEOPLE may totally finish college and be at  a loss and grab onto whatever is going rather than go back to live their parents’ house. The uncertainty of the newly graduated is part of the setting of this book and why it works the way it does. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all on the edge of something, moving from a day-to-day life full of literary debate and beatnik one-upmanship into a world where they are suddenly expected to know what to do and how to do it. Madeleine doesn’t, and that’s precisely the point. And who hasn’t clung onto a love affair hoping to recapture their initial feeling? Why does everyone find Madeleine so hard to deal with? To me she is completely real and perhaps fairly ordinary but that is precisely the point.

Steven: Mitchell and Leonard, on the other hand, have a lot more going on.  More depth goes into Mitchell’s idolisation of Madeleine than goes into her character.  Mitchell and Leonard both have Stuff Going On, as well as character development.  Leonard is the most interesting of the three, suffering from bipolar disorder he is either a manic force of nature, bringing joy and excitement into Madeleine’s (and others’) life (until it inevitably goes too far) or he is helpless and demure, in need of Madeleine’s attention.  Both of these states are vividly detailed, and a lot more of Leonard’s personality shines through than Madeleine’s (oh no, she just doesn’t have one).  Mitchell too is more interesting.  Though I found him a whiny, annoying jerk who needs to shut up always (which further says something about Madeleine).  Admittedly THAT last complaint is a personal taste thing.  But let me tell you if there is one thing I don’t want to read about it’s people backpacking in Europe/India.  Actually, that was another thing.  That section was too disjointed from the narrative.  I found in the (roughly) last third everything became a bit too loose and messy, in an unsatisfying way.

Fay: Again, DISAGREE. I found the backpacking section another example of a real person being lost that rang true. The romance of the adventure compared to the realities of being lonely and confused and quite literally lost is something that most travellers will be able to identify with. Especially the scene at the start with Mitchell’s friend ditching him for his annoying girlfriend. I also found it particular interesting as a period piece, a time when backpacking meant being constantly disconnected from everything you knew. Mitchell’s isolation is highlighted by all the letters sent and not sent. And I thought the looseness was again indicative of mental state. Mitchell is isolated and confused, stringing his experiences together in the hope of finding some religious or spiritual meaning. I thought the writing conveyed that really well. [Steven: All of that, MAYBE!  Not caring about white people backpacking and despairing is clearly a personal thing.  But you haven’t addressed its disjointed-ness from the rest of the book.] Ok, maybe because I didn’t find it so disjointed really.  This is a post-college self definining story and it fits in perfectly, as well as being a common experience, with that theme.  Mitchell, who seems to have everything going for him tries to physically distance himself from everything in an attempt to define HIMSELF rather than fall into a path defined for him. Each character spends a lot of the novel feeling profoundly alone, Mitchell just happens to experience this physically as well. It worked for me. Furthermore while I agree with your liking the intensity of the Leonard section, may I controversially say that I found him and not Mitchell to be the annoying one.

Steven: The first third of the book was pretty orright!  I like college/university stories, probably because THAT’S WHERE I LIVE! and I particularly like wanky theories and such because THAT’S WHAT I DO!  So the bits at Brown were fun, where there was still the potential for Madeleine to become not boring.

Fay: Me too! It inspired me to go out and buy a copy of A Lover’s Discourse by Barthes (which I now know how to pronounce correctly) from the one and only Sunflower Bookshop! Buy books there now! I honestly think that you may have liked it more if you had finished uni and were trying to make your life work in the real world. That’s where I live. It is confusing and scary and you don’t always know where to go or what to do. And you’re not the smartest person or the most beautiful person or the most creative person [Steven: speak for yourself! Fay: I saw that coming the second I wrote that.] so you just see what comes along and go where it will take you. Eugenides captures this perfectly [Steven: I will accept this!  But unfortunately that’s not all the book’s about].

So the verdict? We must agree to disagree! Agree or disagree with us Agree with Steven in the comments.

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ToB: The Rest of the Quarter Finals

Yessss!  You guys!  First The Sisters Brothers wins, then The Marriage Plot loses!  Ha!  Victory!  And with that gloating over let’s get to the first round.

So, as discussed, my favourite book in the tournament is GOING FORTH!  But clearly not FROM THIS SHOP.  Why has no one bought the last copy?  I only have speculation.  Could it be that the Western is not a hugely appealing genre, especially in Australia, no matter the literary merit of the book in question?  Could it be that every one already has one (we HAVE actually sold a number)?  Could it be that it isn’t in a visible enough location?  Could it be that you who read the blog don’t love me?  Could it be that I haven’t been shilling it when people ask for a recommendation because I can just TELL the people wouldn’t like it?  WHO CAN SAY.  All I know is that you should watch the blog for more updates on the availability of that last copy.

SO, that book v. Swamplandia!.  Similarities: quirky first person narration from endearing characters, magical realism, poetic writing.  Differences: the rest of the books!  I’ve already discussed both their individual merits in their respective ToB posts so you know how I feel about both of them.  One further thing I will say is that, while this is CERTAINLY more an indictment of me than of Swamplandia!, at times I found Ava’s magical perception of events kind of irritating (and Ossie’s even more so!).  I felt like yelling at them SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read: Your stupid ghost thing is INCREDIBLY annoying Ossie and also shut up! And Ava THAT DUDE’S TOTES A PAEDOPHILE END SPOILER

The book was clever, it ramped up the tension, but at times I wanted to skip ahead till what I knew would happen happened.

THAT SAID!  Overall it is certainly a great debut novel, I wish I had one iota of the talent that Karen Russell shows.

The Sisters Brothers had tension too, but never the irritating kind, so that’s a win for me.

And so my favourite book of last year lives to fight another day!

As for the SECOND match up, may I just say haHA!  Goodbye least favourite book of last year!  Now I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this round (due to much previous discussion and incoming [eventually] EUGNIDESTRUCTION 2012), but I am very happy with the outcome.  Open City is a fantastic book, and Julius, its narrator, is a fascinating character.  As for a revelation that occurs towards the end of the book, I don’t want to spoil it here, but I WILL refer you to the comments on the match up because there is some seriously smart and interesting discussion going on there.  I’m glad that the more deserving book won (though Marriage Plot has it’s fair share of supporters, like that Fay girl).

That’s what I’ve got, keep a-readin’ to find out about the (eventual) sale of the last copy of The Sisters Brothers.

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ToB: The Marriage Plot vs Green Girl

Well this is embarrassing.  As much as I love being OFFICIALLY MENTIONED BY THE TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS, I am subsequently shamed by my sometimes (often) less than average reviews (excerpt: “I like the way the words are good and stuff?”) and our less frequent than desirable update schedule.  Which is why this week there will be a TOURNAMENT BLITZ!  Today I’m going to talk about the Saturday’s match up of  The Marriage Plot and Green Girl.  TOMORROW I will chat (not to be confused with chatz) about The Art of Fielding vs. Open City with previously unmentioned and current-reigning newest employee (knocking me off my perch; alas that excuse for poor service is gone) Vivienne!  She will will totes have a bunch to say Open City and the previously eliminated though-none-the-less-great-for-it The Cat’s Table AND she will probably do it with effortless style and grace.  And then, my friends, AND THEN! Sunflower foreign correspondent (previously humble worker) Fay is going to discuss the semifinals thus far from Venice.  Venice you guys!  Clearly she cares about this thing too much.  And after (but super hopefully not) The Marriage Plot beats the much superior Open City, Fay and I will battle it out in a WAR OF WORDS over why The Marriage Plot is the worst.  Or at least I’LL be saying that, she loved that book!  Great minds and poor reviewers (well one at least) will clash and ONLY ONE SHALL EMERGE.

All of which means, of course, that I’ll be saving my choicest arguments about this match up till then.  And I haven’t read Green Girl so this one might be short.  Green Girl is another one of those books that, like Lightning Rods, is just not available in Australia, meaning to read it I’d have to buy it through America.  I shall leave the (very reasonable) rants about the conservativeness of the Australian publishing industry to Fay.  Anyway like Lightning Rods, I couldn’t justify to myself buying it for the shop, meaning I’d have to buy it for myself.  And LET ME TELL YOU while studying a useless discipline and working part time in a bookshop might SOUND like the glamorous life of a jetsetter, appearances can be deceiving.  In short, I’m cheap so I haven’t read it.  BUT it certainly sounds interesting!  I am not really a reader of experimental fiction, not because of particular taste but rather because I don’t KNOW any but I am willing to start with that one (even if the judge, and others, were not the fondest).  Aaand that’s as far as I can stretch talking about how I haven’t read a book.

The Marriage Plot, however, I DID read.  And there was nothing SUPER wrong with it.  A large chunk of my visceralreaction against it is probs just because of how much Fay loved it.  But you know what THERE WAS NOTHING TO LOVE.  It was ordinary, the mainest of main characters was barely a character, Mitchell was irritating (though it certainly seemed like Eugenides loved him) and the whole thing was just inconsequential.  The first part of the book was orright but it reminded me of a weaker version of Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow, which, conversely I LOVED, and the rest of it, whatevs.  OK Mr. Eugenides was trying to write a late modern (it weren’t postmodern let me tell you!) version of a marriage plot but who gives a shit?  And then in the third (roughly) third I felt like it became too disjointed and lost all its momentum.  Oh yeah summaries we’re still trying to do that.  The Marriage Plot follows three characters as they graduate from college in the early 1980s.  There’s Madeline (the problematic one), a Victorian/regency literature lover who is no fan of Derrida (fair).  Mitchell (the annoying one) is totes in love with her or at least he idealises/idolises her, but she just wants to be his friend/is happy for him to like her.  Then there’s Leonard (the good one), the charming, bi-polar science student who Madeline falls in love with.  The book follows their college travails and bla de bla.  LET IT BE KNOWN that I have no problem with that as a plot.  And LET IT BE KNOWN that Eugenides writes totes good like (there that Steven reviewing skill is again!).  And LET IT BE KNOWN that I do not know what it is like to finish university and be thrown into the world like a child into the swimming pool, sans floaties, and so I obviously cannot appreciate the oft-commented-on way that Eugenides describes that post university feeling (very well apparently).  And LET IT BE KNOWN I wanted to enjoy it.  But unfortunately, for me, it was ultimately empty.

But Fay loved it!

As a final note is it just me or does it seem this tournament’s going out of it’s way to advance Marriage Plot, maybe even let it, heaven forbid, win?  I mean first it’s placed against something it will obviously crushed.  Ok, it happens! (See Sense of an Ending vs. The Devil All the Time).  But then things that could defeat it are placed against each other (Art of Fielding, Open City), then there are two surprise losses (Sense of an Ending, Tiger’s Wife) leading to a next round match up of Marriage Plot with Open City.  Now I know I just said Open City could win.  But it’s polarising.  Vivienne and I loved it, Margaret, one of the managers, hated it.  Whereas Art of Fielding is a damn enjoyable novel, and yes, there’s not much more to it but I feel the same way about Marriage Plot (minus the enjoyable part).  In other ways too I feel like Art of Fielding was the closest book to it in the Tournament (having not read Green Girl), and Art of Fielding was a LOT more enjoyable.  ANYWAY, clearly I’m hoping for an Open City win.

And that, as they say, is the books.

Check back in tomorrow for Vivienne’s internet debut!

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