10 February 2012

The Marriage Plot ~ Jeffrey Eugenides


Finalist : National Book Circle Critics Award 2011
Tournament of Books : 2012

Shallow narrative with depth of research
A homage, a trope, for the Victorian romance

How can a book be both shallow and deep when you describe it? But this one was!

The narrative was the basic Victorian romance : girl rejects hero to fall for cad; romance turns bad; hero comes to the rescue ... and that is the Victorian "marriage plot". But this book was very long-winded in its delivery of the plot because it put so much into the characters. Everything you needed to know about their upbringing, their faults and foibles, their motivations and desires ... it's all there.

The first 20% of the book had an enormous wank factor for me ... fine if you are an English major but the reading references were out of my league. It was a struggle.

The about-to-be college graduates are appropriately self absorbed as they sort out their futures and relationships. Much research has gone into this book (the character padding) : The heroine (beautiful, brainy, well off) has an interest in Victorian literature; the cad (impoverished, brilliant, dysfunctional family) has a mental illness; the spurned hero (steadfast, genius, whimpish) is into comparative religion. And all these topics are covered in depth, though nicely segued and never seeming to appear as research notes.

If you want a Victorian novel, read Wuthering Heights. Yes there is a twist with Madeline/Cathy marrying Leonard/Heathcliff and then being rescued by Mitchell/Edgar ... who then turns around and lets her go!!!

This book, by virtue of its name, by virtue of the plot, by virtue of Madeline's literary passions, is to meant to be a trope to the entanglements of the Victorian romances. But it is over padded. Too much to read for too little story.

Trope : figurative language in literature, or a figure of speech, or something recurring across a genre or type of creative work; a recurring motif or device not done to the point of exhaustion (whereby it becomes a cliche).