There are several things to recommend “The Marriage Plot” — he author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer; for the literary minded, the book is full of ‘bookish’ issues and mentions of great novels; and the owner of Square Books, Richard Howarth, thinks it is good.
“In the opening third of Jeffrey Eugenides’ brilliant new novel nearly 200 book titles and authors’ names appear as Madeleine finds her way toward college commencement,” Howarth said. “With ‘The Marriage Plot,’ Eugenides gains a firmer grasp upon the perch he already had been granted with ‘Middlesex’ and ‘The Virgin Suicides ‘as one of our great novelists.”
The book’s opening sentence is, “To start with, look at all the books.” From that beginning, the book might be a romp for English majors as everyone and everything from George Eliot to Derrida, “The Confessions of St. Augustine” to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” pops up, generally with relevance to what is going on with the characters, especially Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse,” which Madeleine is reading just as she begins to find herself attracted to Leonard.
“But, Eugenides makes matters complex with a religious studies rival suitor and the dynamic chemistry of Leonard, a biology prodigy,” Howarth said. “A riddle arises involving the competing energies of the great novels of 19th century with those of today’s much evolved times, but the reader won’t much notice because the characters are utterly true, and the writing and the tale so brilliantly compelling.”
The book’s Greek-American protagonist, Mitchell Grammaticus, in some ways parallels Eugenides’ own life and his wrestles with religion and sexual politics. Following graduation from Brown University, the author lived in India where he volunteered at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. Later he lived in Berlin for five years and wrote “Middlesex” there. He returned to the U.S. to study fiction writing at Stanford University and now teaches fiction writing at Princeton.
In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Eugenides said, “My friends from college will recognize me, but the book is not a memoir.”
The author will be in Oxford on Oct. 28 for a reading in the university’s Bondurant Hall at 4:30 p.m. and at Square Books for a signing at 5:30 p.m.