Monday, 20 May 2013

Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot - 3 stars

(read May 2013)

I fell in love with Middlesex, and The Virgin Suicides sustained that feeling and kept my expectations high, both of them possessing a hypnotic quality and originality that still make me feel a bit glowy when I think of them. It was perhaps for this reason that I felt slightly underwhelmed by this latest outing from Jeffrey Eugenides, or perhaps the fault lay with me as I wasn't able to devote as much time to reading this as I would have liked. When I finally did get a chance to read undisturbed for more than 5 minutes I found it almost engrossing, but unfortunately up until then real life shenanigans had intruded and made for a fractured reading experience, which might partly explain why I didn't get the expected tingle from this book.

Madeleine is writing her thesis on the marriage plot in literature while starring in her own marriage plot as she loves Leonard, who's manic depressive, and is loved by Mitchell, who's pondering questions of spirituality. Including enough nods to other literary works to keep most bookworms satisfied and lots of nice moments of writing, somehow I still didn't really feel as if I ever connected with it on more than a superficial level.

If I hadn't read anything more by Eugenides I'd have probably enjoyed this more, but I just didn't get that rush that I've now come to expect from reading him, when a book sets up shop inside you.

If you're thinking of picking up some Eugenides, perhaps these might be a better place to start:

Middlesex - 5 stars

(read April 2009)

I felt like I'd read a rare treat, a book as unique as it's narrator.

This tells the story of hermaphrodite Cal (formerly Calliope) by tracing the recessive gene through the tangled branches of his family tree, from his grandparents' courtship on the slopes of Bithynios and the burning harbour of Smyrna, through to Cal's own Walk on the Wild Side in 70's San Francisco.

It's filled with cinematic moments; throughout the montage on the Henry Ford assembly line, the businessmen on Black Thursday, and the little girl pedalling furiously behind tanks rolling through Detroit, you can almost see the edits and grainy footage. At other times you're submersed in dreamy detail.

Amusing, thrilling, informative and moving, I couldn't recommend this book highly enough.

The Virgin Suicides - 5 stars

(read in January 2011)

You might be forgiven for thinking that a book telling of the suicides of five teenaged sisters, all within a year, might be depressing. However, soon after embarking upon this book, you'd have been proven wrong as instead this is a beautiful and moving account of the indelible impressions left upon the lives and memories of their community and the neighbourhood boys who loved them from afar, as they try to piece together the mystery of who the girls were and why they took their lives.

From the very first the neighbourhood is touched by pollution and decay - the fish flies that fill the air and leave their bodies blanketing the houses, cars and streets, the constant flooding of basements and the cutting down of neighbourhood trees in an effort to stop the spread of dutch elm disease, much like the watchfulness that grips the neighbourhood following the suicide of Cecilia, the youngest, as though suicide is a contagion. Already isolated due to the boys' shy worship, the family becomes more and more isolated until completely shut away inside their decaying home, lending the girls the air of tragic fairytale princesses needing rescue and leaving the boys to fantasize and speculate on each scrap of their lives that they can scavenge. However, much like the girls themselves, the answers to who they were and why they died always remains a tantalising riddle, always just out of reach.

I can't do justice to this book with this review, so instead you should just go out and find yourself a copy, and let yourself drift inside the memories of the boys.

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