Monday, February 13, 2012

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides — Audiobook Review

Narrated by: David Pittu
Produced by: Macmillan Audio
Length: 15 Hours 35 minutes

Madeline Hanna is completing her final year in college and discovers herself, quite by circumstance, in a class dealing with semiotics, where she meets the charismatic and attractive Leonard Bankhead. While Madeline is busily dissecting 19th century novels and assembling her thesis on the Marriage Plot, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Leonard, who is a loner with a reputation for being somewhat of a Lothario. Though Madeline is from an upper crust family and is highly intelligent, she’s no match for Leonard’s power of persuasive attraction and soon finds herself falling deeply in love with the troubled genius. This whole situation greatly troubles Mitchell Grammaticus, a young man who feels that Madeline is his spiritual and romantic ideal. As Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell finally graduate, their destines are shaped by misguided love, powerful jealousy and mental illness. Now the three are off into the real world, where their academic prowess holds no sway over the more typical struggles of everyday life. For Madeline, this means heartbreak in the form of a complicated love that demands more than she’s capable of giving, while for Leonard, it means a dive from a high mental precipice that cannot be stopped. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s journey will take him deep into the recesses of his soul, where the power of religious mysticism will force him to change not only his life, but the lives of Madeline and Leonard. In this highly original and erudite tale of entwining lives, Jeffrey Eugenides brings us three unforgettable people just leaving the world of academia who are edging out into the cusp of a world that’s so very different than the one they left behind.

When Heather over at Book Addiction asked me if I would like to listen to the audio version of this title, I was really excited and eagerly said yes. I read and loved Middlesex many years ago and had been pretty excited about this book since first hearing of its imminent release. The audiobook was narrated by David Pittu, and I found myself utterly held captive by his expert narration and perfectly pitched vocalization. When I finally reached the end of the book, I lamented its ending for days, thinking over and over again about the paths of Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell and what would happen to them once the final scene had closed. Pittu’s voice was uniquely suited to this book, and in his rich tones and the warm introspection of his voice, I found a comfortable groove in which to take in this wonderful story.

This was a big book filled with big ideas, but Eugenides never loses his readers, despite the complexity of the vocabulary or the sinuousness of his narrative construction. It’s quite a feat, but Eugenides manages it well, creating a large sprawling book that has the amazing ability to both energize and enervate his readers with an emotionally stirring plot. At times this book could also veer into the realm of one of sustained intimacy, and though the story is large, it never becomes ponderous or unfocused. Each bit of this tale interlocks with the others with ease, bring together a whole crystalline picture that seems to touch on several dozen issues with fluidity and cohesiveness and a sustaining movement of plot that is both smart and sometimes audacious.

Though the book is set in the 80s, it’s really a story that lives outside of time, and though there are many period references, Eugenides doesn’t amplify them and make them the point of the narrative. The 80s, in this tale, is simply another character that is honed and harnessed in order to serve the drive of the plot. As a setting, it worked brilliantly, because while it had aspects of modernity, there was also a bit of reflective genius working just under the surface of the tale, helping readers to feel as if they were both trapped in a time period yet far removed from it. Another thing that really worked for me was the way Eugenides shifted the story about in time, deftly shuffling the elements of how and when these events took place. In once scene we would see Madeline and Leonard in a very specific situation, and then the narrative would work itself backwards, revealing how these predicaments came to be. It was handled beautifully and was a style of foreshadowing that I hadn’t seen before.

Though the root of this novel is a triple-stranded love story, it was also much more than that. Though it’s impossible to lay it all out in one review, I was left with a great many ideas and thoughts as I was listening. Themes of rejection and incompatibility seemed to be nestled in between tucks and folds of maturation and acceptance, while spiritual reflection and a trueness to one’s nature sat beside themes of the unalterable aspects of fate. I grew to love these characters and to truly understand their moral and physical struggles. I wept for them and missed them when it was all over and done with. Eugenides’ skill in creating real people whom you can care about is only rivaled by the skill with which he creates the worlds and circumstances they live in. There was an element of chaos to all this order, but it was beautiful chaos.

I was highly enamored of this book, and for those readers who enjoy stories that are both character and plot driven, this will be a magnificent read. It’s also very smart and involving, and one that creatively encompasses Eugenides’ ability to showcase humanity in all its flawed grace. I’m so glad I was able to spend time with this book and have to admit that it’s been the best read of the year so far. An excellent choice for a wide spectrum of readers. Highly recommended.

If you’d like to hear a sample of Pittu’s elegant narration, please click below for an audio sample:



32 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I'll be reading this for my book club in a few months and I'm a little nervous because the reviews have been so mixed. I'm glad to see you loved it.

Nymeth said...

So glad you enjoyed it, Heather! As you know it was one of my favourites of last year :D

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have this at my house and can't wait to read it ... just as soon as I figure out where I put it! :--)

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Wow, you've made me want to listen to it. Great review!

Jenny said...

I've seen mixed things about this book, but maybe it was just because the anticipation for it was sooo huge. I think it sounds great, and I will definitely be considering audio if I end up reading this!

Brooke said...

Yay for Jeffrey Eugenides! I love him so much and I can define large chunks of my life around his first two books. This one is waiting to be read at the end of the month for my birthday and I. Can. Not. Wait. Great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I absolutely loved Middlesex on audio, and as you know, now I have this on audio, I just have to find time to listen!

Vasilly said...

I have this on my reading list along with Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides. If you enjoyed this, I know I probably will too.

Ryan said...

I'm really intrigued by this novel. I'm a huge fan of Eugenides, but I haben't gotten around to this one yet.

Harvee said...

I have to add this to my wish list as I do remember wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life after I graduated :) Very nice review.

Andi said...

Heather, you had me at, "This was a big book filled with big ideas, but Eugenides never loses his readers, despite the complexity of the vocabulary or the sinuousness of his narrative construction."

WHOA! Yes. This is a book I want to read. I'm the zillionth person on hold and waiting for it from my library, but I might end up buying it. I still have a gift card from Christmas, and I want to finish it before the Tournament of Books kicks in on March 7th.

GREAT review!

softdrink said...

Excellent point about the 80s....I'm not a big fan of that decade as a setting (I lived through the hair and clothes and have no desire to relive it), so I was glad to see that Eugenides didn't play it up. But it totally worked for the story in the sense of the characters not being as connected (no cell phones, instant access to email).

Jenners said...

You've got me excited about this. I'll confess that I have been leery of it as I've heard "its no Middlesex" and the plot sounded kind of …um … boring. But I should trust a great writer and Eugenides is that. Excellent reivew. Though now I'm sad I don't have it on audio but have the print version.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I've been waiting to read this one, and I think I need to wait until I'm in the mood to tackle this one. Great review!

Suko said...

This does sound good! I read Middlesex a few years ago, and may well read or listen to this book. It sounds as if this is a very complex, layered book. Excellent review!

nomadreader said...

I really enjoyed this one too, and it was fascinating to hear about the experience on audio! I, too, was amazed that Euginedes was able to make me feel smart, despite not being familiar with all of the words and names dropped in this book. I find it interesting you thought it was timeless. As someone who teaches a first-year seminar for college students on the impact of technology on our lives, I was struck by how different this story would be in the current age of technology on a college campus. The very thought of waiting by the phone for a boy to call is mind-boggling these days. I'm glad you liked this one so much!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

I too read Middlesex and absolutely fell in love with Eugenides particular form of writing. I have not picked this one up yet and after your glowing review of the narrator I will be getting this one as an audio. Thank you for such a high recommendation of The Marriage Plot!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad u liked this one a lot. I liked it, but I have to say I was just a tad disappointed after Middlesex being a Top (all time) 5 book for me.

Lisa said...

I've been wondering about this one for my book club. Sounds like there would be a lot to discuss in a book that would also be a great read. Surprisingly, those two things don't always go together!

Aarti said...

Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! I love how you are exploring so many different kinds of books now that your review pile has decreased :-) This book and this author are two I really need to read! I think I'll read his Middlesex first, though, as it's been on my shelf for AGES...

Marie said...

Sounds great. I'm really glad you enjoyed it because you have great taste! I haven't read Eugenides before and I'll definitely keep this in mind.

Steph said...

Loved this review! It was so enthusiastic and articulate and it definitely has heightened my interest in reading this one. As you know, I love books that involve academia in any way whatsoever, but I've also been in the mood for love stories of late, so I hope I can try this one out sooner rather than later!

Kailana said...

I have had this since it came out and still not read it. I think I am a bit scared of it because I enjoyed his other two books so much. I will get over that eventually. :)

Alyce said...

I liked this book very much and read it at just the right time for my mood. I had come off of reading a ton of YA books that had light fluffy writing, and was ready to dig into something that was more meaty. It was such a treat to read something so well crafted.

Jules said...

I've seen this book around a lot, still not convince it's the book for me, although I do plan on checking out the authors other works. Good review!

Ti said...

I think I described it as being big, too. A lot of readers did not enjoy this one, but I think that's so because they failed to see the largeness of it. It's deceptively simple, yet not. I know, because at one point, I was like "what is the point to all of this?" but after finishing it, and pondering the themes, it just struck me how difficult it must have been to make it seem so simple, yet contain these larger elements.

Amy said...

I'm so happy you enjoyed this book. The reviews that aren't positive disappoint me so much simply because I was so looking forward to this book! This book sounds fascinating and so well done.

Do you think the audio is better way to experience this book or it's justup to the reader and their taste?

Aths said...

I've never read a Eugenides book before, though I have quite a few of his in my TBR. Glad that you loved this one! I like the ideas explored in this book and am looking forward to sampling it.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Oooh, great review, Heather!

I hadn't before caught that Mitchell's last name is "Grammaticus." I think Eugenides is playing with us.

Love what you wrote about the 80s being another character - a talented writer can do that (personify) time or place.

Darlene said...

This is another one my library has on audio that I want to listen to. I have read one other of his books and didn't really like it so I'm hoping I like this one better.

Buried In Print said...

I was thinking about listening to this one on audio, but then I flipped through a copy and it seems so incredibly bookish that I think I'll be wanting to make a lot of notes and jot down some bookish quotes, so I'm holding out for paged version instead. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much!

Ti said...

I responded to this from my phone but I see that my comment doesn't show. Heck, I may have forgotten to send it. Gah!

I am so glad you loved this one. I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed the audio a bit more.

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