Review: The Marriage Plot

Why I picked it: This novel was selected as the first book selection for a new book club that my friends and I have started.  It was my choice, and a risky one.

Why this book? I knew the reading habits of only two gals but thought this would be an interesting choice after everyone said they want to read outside their comfort zone. Some of the women I have met just 2-3 times before our discussion... college/dating seemed like a safe place. 

Synopsis: It's the early 1980s--the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead--charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy--suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus--who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange--resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can't escape the secret responsible for Leonard's seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Before recapping our discussion, let me say that I enjoyed this book very much.  The first section is packed with information and the reader might be concerned that the entire book will follow the flow of part one.  Don't get stuck here... it's reality fiction, a love triangle/personal growth story.

One of my walking friends wasn't able to finish the book.  She tried to read it but I think it's safe to say she hated it.  Everyone else enjoyed it.  I did walk away from our discussion wondering how this novel reads internationally.  The women who read this book with 'English as a second language' really struggled with some of the vocabulary and section one was difficult for them.  I would love to read reviews from my friends outside the US to see if they had a similar experience.

I did write all over my copy, noting paragraphs to discuss.  As mentioned in the synopsis, Madeleine is a romantic who writes her thesis on love and the classics.  I loved this statement to Madeleine:

"...was there a novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who's always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she's got more important things to do with her life?..."

I was satisfied with the ending, it was exactly what I was looking for. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: personal copy

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