Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book of the Week and UK Bibliography - Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”

Three novels in 18 years is not a prolific literary output but if quality matters more than quantity (as it surely does) then Jeffrey Eugenides is an important author. He was born in Detroit in 1960, and is of Greek and Irish descent. The Marriage Plot is his first novel since Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, but to many people his previous novel (The Virgin Suicides, 1993) will be more familiar as a result of the Sofia Coppola film of the same name. He has also published a number of short stories and edited an anthology of love stories (My Mistresses Sparrow is Dead).

The Marriage Plot is published in the UK as a hardcover by Fourth Estate – I expect a large print run and little long term collectible value, unless you can find a signed copy*. But books are for reading.....

*I have now discovered that there are 2000 first editions signed on a tipped in sheet.  So even signed firsts are unlikely to hold much financial value.  Firsts signed on the title page without the tipped in sheet will be preferred, but in these circumstances added value is likely to be small.

“It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, 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 studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner and college Darwinist – suddenly turns up in a 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 spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they have learned. 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.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.”

UK Bibliography

The Virgin Suicides, Bloomsbury, 1993, £50-75.
Middlesex, Bloomsbury, 2002. £10-15.
My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead, 2008. Harper London,£10-15 in decorated boards.
The Marriage Contract, 4th Estate, 2011, cover price.

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