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: