Join Jeffrey Eugenides to talk about our April Book of the Month, THE MARRIAGE PLOT, on Thurs 3 May, 9-10pm

(132 Posts)

'To start with, look at all the books'. So begins the very first sentence in our April Book of the Month, THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides. And books are everywhere in this novel: Victorian love stories, literary theories, philosophical tracts, holy scripture and all sorts of writing in between.

It is 1982, and three undergraduates are about to leave Brown University. Madeleine, an idealistic and romantic English Literature addict, is infatuated with Leonard, her mercurial and scientific boyfriend. Meanwhile, theology student Mitchell is convinced that he and Madeleine are destined to be together. Full of idealism and ideas, all three embark on a journey of discovery that reveals adult life is definitely no fairy tale - nor a classic Jane Austen novel.

THE MARRIAGE PLOT crammed with energy and intelligence; it makes you think big and bold. But more than that, it is funny, warm, tender and understanding. Eugenides' writing is seemingly effortless; it amuses and beguiles and thoroughly entertains. And it is full of those small, telling details that are perfect in their perception of human emotion, and in understanding the fallibility of human nature. A true modern classic.

You can find out more at our book of the month page, and read an interview with Eugenides here.

4th Estate have 50 copies of the book to give away to Mumsnetters. To claim yours, please go to the book of the month page and fill in your details.

We'll post on the thread when all the copies have been sent out but if you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We're delighted that Jeffrey Eugenides will be joining us to talk about THE MARRIAGE PLOT, and his other novels, on Thursday 3 May, 9-10pm.

Whether you've read this book, previous books, or just want to ask him how he started writing, come along and join in.

Meanwhile, do keep posting your thoughts and any advance questions on this thread.

Looking forward to it...

Teaddict Tue 08-May-12 21:26:33

"de-kooning teeth" - something like this perhaps?

http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/arts/a-mix-fear-and-pleasure

Is it just me or is this a really obscure reference?! Oh well, you learn something new every day. Thanks MN bookclub...

judithann Fri 04-May-12 22:33:21

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

minimuffin Fri 04-May-12 10:00:32

I'm not sure if you'll be checking back into this thread, but thank you so much for your answer Jeffrey. I was reading last night, but on my iphone so typing too unreliable and slow to join in. My knowledge of the classics is sadly lacking but you have reminded me why (as my amazing English lit teacher tried to tell us repeatedly) they are at the root of every story. I will get round to it one day - so much to read, so little time! In an age when everyone seemingly is being encouraged to put pen to paper you are reminder of what a true writer is, how to do it properly and why it's important. Take as long as you like to write the next one, I'm sure it'll be worth the wait, but hearing about your writing process is interesting. Can't wait read The Marriage Plot now that I know more what it is about - I was just thinking about my first teenage love the other day, strangely, and how my experience of it (unrequited) has affected all the relationships I have had since in some way. And yes, the intensity of those teenage years is not to be treated lightly... Will try to handle my sons with care when they get to that age!

Hullygully Fri 04-May-12 09:11:37

So sorry I missed this - although so it seems did Jeffrey...Had a meeting couldn't escape from.

Love it that you missed it Jeffrey, just the sort of thing I would have done.

Still love you very much!

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:53:08

RachelMumsnet

I'm still here..when we announce the new book of the month, we are lucky enough to get a number of copies in to the office and never before has there been such a buzz about a book as this month - and lots of us new to your novels (like someone else, I;m also reading your novels in reverse). One thing: NancyMumsnet is a HUGE fan of yours and you seem to have mixed up the answer to her question. Any chance you can go back and answer her question?

I thought I did, but here it is again:

I’m often asked this question but I never know the answer. It must have something to do with my own experience growing up, some kind of vividness and mystery that I both enjoy revisiting and try to describe or explain. I haven’t had any kind of special education in “teenage sexuality” but I did engaged in my own experiments at the time, like most everyone else, and the memory lingers. I’m not talking about sex so much as about feeling, feeling so intensely about things, as one does in youth. All your senses are keen then and everything that happens in happening for the first time.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 03-May-12 23:33:52

I'm still here..when we announce the new book of the month, we are lucky enough to get a number of copies in to the office and never before has there been such a buzz about a book as this month - and lots of us new to your novels (like someone else, I;m also reading your novels in reverse). One thing: NancyMumsnet is a HUGE fan of yours and you seem to have mixed up the answer to her question. Any chance you can go back and answer her question?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 03-May-12 23:31:48

Goodnight!

Thanks so much for all your answers, we got there despite shades of Madeleine and Mitchell - timing all awry.

We'll look forward to your short stories and next novel (as patiently as possible).

Thank you again.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:25:18

Someone asked about the Felsenkeller, and I can't find who. So here's the answer:

True. Sort of. That was my local when I lived in Berlin. I didn’t write the book there but I did go there a lot and was and remain friendly with the owners. I could never write in a bar, however. But I love the Felsenkeller and derived “inspiration” there. In liquid form.

Goodnight.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:22:10

Well, I'm terribly sorry for the mix-up, everyone. I had the time down wrong, have had it down wrong for months and so believed it all the more. Thank you for you questions and comments. I've been traveling a lot, which doesn't make things any easier. Next week am off to New Zealand and Australia, so I don't think I'll be able to do a re-run of this chat. For that, again, my sincere apologies.

JE

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:19:13

Anyone still awake in England?

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:17:19

hippy99

Hi Jeffrey,
I really enjoyed this book although I did initially find it difficult to get into. I liked the way the same story was told from the perspective of different characters. This also enabled me to understand the manic depression theme from both the sufferers viewpoint and those people around them. It seems as an author you understood both sides is this purely from research? or do you know people personally who have or had MD?

I don't know anyone well personally who has bi-polar disease, though of course have met people in the past who I now suspect had it. At any rate, I wasn't describing someone I know but was trying to imagine what it would be like to have the disease.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:14:23

TillyBookClub

Nice to have you, mum2jakie - and I promise that even if there are spoilers, it's well worth reading anyway. I sneaked a peek at the ending way before I finished it, and it didn't change my enjoyment of the book at all.

I'm going to add another question for Jeffrey:

An aspect of the book that I found fascinating was the switch in perspective between the male and the female, and the truthfulness of their more extreme inner thoughts about relationships/sex/love etc.

Which female writer do you think writes the most truthful male characters?

Alice Munro is very good.

And who are your main literary influences, or does it change depending on what you are writing?

The great Russians (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov) and the great American Jews (Saul Bellow Philip Roth). With some Henry James thrown in. But, yes, it does change over time. And hopefully diminishes.

Sorry, that's two more. Am being greedy now.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:11:09

wickerman

I have read your novels in reverse - I started with the marriage plot which I read 4 times - amazing, my brother has recently been diagnosed with bpd and your description of Leonard was extremely moving and accurate; then Middlesex - phenomenal and I am of Greek origin also which made sense of a lot of my family's traits and obsessions - and now wallowing in the dreamy limpid prose of Virgin Suicides for the 4th time. You are an incredible writer. I'm jealous.
Your novels seem to take you a long time. Why is this? Are you meticulous, a procrastinator, a teacher,a libertine, a tennis pro, a stay at home father? I suspect the first as the scope and sweep of your novels is immense.

I have no excuse. My books are quite different, one to the next, so each time I write a book I have to re-invent the wheel. I can't rely on past practice. This slows things down, as do my many doubts about the work itself. I work every day though, many hours of each day, so it's not as though I'm off gallivanting or gardening. I'm going to try to get better at this thing, or at least faster, but we'll see what happens.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:08:36

juneau

Hi Jeffrey,

I'm loving the book so far (started it on Monday, so I'm only 1/4 of the way through), but am finding it very compulsive - my poor kids are having to vie with it for my attention!

How long do you spend researching and writing your books, because it's been a while (about 8 years?), since 'Middlesex' appeared. Have you been working on this book all that time? There are authors out there who churn out book after book, but you turn out one finely crafted piece and then appear to take a break - so do you go off and do something else for a bit?

After MX, I started another novel that didn't work out. Lost about three years on that. Happily, three of the characters in that book came out alive: Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. I gave their own book, which turned into "The Marriage Plot."

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 23:00:21

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

We've featured many great books this year, but I have to nail my colours to the mast, put aside my usual neutrality and say out loud that THE MARRIAGE PLOT has been my favourite so far. It might be because I studied English Literature, it might be because I was already a huge fan of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides. Or it might just be that this is (to me) the perfect combination of big, complex, philosophical ideas and small, vivid, psychologically spot-on detail. And funny, to boot.

So I am thrilled that Jeffrey Eugenides is here tonight to throw light on the inspiration and research behind his book, and to talk about his previous novels and his writing career.

I feel there is a huge amount to squeeze into an hour, so without further ado...

Jeffrey, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And many congratulations on such a wonderful book and such a successful writing career. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors, and will be archived on the site):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

It was a book called “The Shadow of a Bull,” about a bullfighter in Spain. I was in second grade. I don’t remember much about it now other than that it was rather advanced for my age and I felt proud to be able to read it. And it had a matador on the cover.

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

In order to write fiction you first have to read it. Acquaint yourself, as bet you can, with the literary tradition. Find out what’s been done so that you can learn from the past but not repeat it. Next, you have to acquire the discipline of sitting in a chair at a desk every day. Start small. An hour or so per day. Gradually build up to four or five or eight.

Over to you...

Am glad some of you still here to get the belated chat! Jeffrey had times mixed up in his diary. But he's going to post all his answers now...

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:58:52

carriemumsnet

I can't believe I'm missing this discussion. I loved Middlesex and think I loved this one even more. I even sat down to read when the kids were still up to finish it...I can't tell you how rare that is...probably never happened before, the children were a bit stunned smile. I also couldn't wait to give it to my best friend but now I've passed it on feel a little bereft. I'm slightly embarrassed as an English grad that I (apparently) missed lots of literary references/parallels - I was too wound up in the characters/plot (never really did that well in literary theory when I studied English either, so it was interesting to revisit that in the book). Did you sit down to write a novel full of literary references/parallels or did you have the story in your head and the refs came naturally as you went along? Or are all those folks spotting literary refs wrong and it's just a jolly good read after allsmile
Again sorry to miss you and thanks for coming on MN. Really looking forward to your next book so do crack on won't you grin

I hope it’s a jolly good read. But it’s also a book about reading and readers. The literary references came in as a result of that. The epigraph is, “People wouldn’t fall in love if they hadn’t heard love talked about.” Or as I rephrase it, “if they hadn’t read about it.” Madeleine reads a lot of love stories. As a result, she develops illusions about love, illusions that her own experience will force her to abandon. The idea for the book began Madeleine, a college student caught between Jane Austen and Roland Barthes, who, as she reads French theory deconstructing love, falls in love with a boy in her class. It began with that ironic situation. I don’t think readers needs to know all the writers I mention in the book. In a sense, the writers are just party of the environment these three characters inhabit. If I were writing about footballers, I would have mentioned footballers. But I was writing about reading and young love.

I hope to be finished with a book of short stories soon and then I’ll crack on with another novel.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:57:40

minimuffin

I haven't read The Marriage Plot or the Virgin Suicides, though I bought them both immediately after reading Middlesex earlier this year. The best-written novel I have read for a long, long time and one that I looked forward to wallowing in at the end of every day whilst I was reading it. As a family saga I loved it. Middlesex has particular resonance for me though as my eldest son was born with the same condition as Cal, although thanks to immediate diagnosis and a very skilled surgeon he will thankfully not face the same issues as Cal. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to read the book as I knew it would hit all kinds of nerves, and I did find parts upsetting and difficult to read, obviously, but I wanted to try to get as many perspectives as possible on the condition so that I can try to support my son as best I can as he grows up and begins to understand what happened to him. The book made me realise that in days gone by he would probably have been labelled as and lived as a hermaphrodite. I hadn't quite realised that and it sent me into a tailspin for a long time after reading it.... but it was beautifully and sympathetically written. I loved how it normalised everything - by the end of the novel you barely even remembered that the grandparents were brother and sister, their situation was so normal, so everyday, they were so much a product of their generation and surroundings that the most extraordinary thing about them was almost forgotten. The same was true of Cal to a degree - she (then he) was just a normal teen dealing with normal teen stuff until reality intervened but you felt you knew and liked him so much by the time of realisation that all that mattered was how he dealt with it. Whether he'd chosen to continue living as a woman or to do what he did and embrace being male, it didn't really matter. All that mattered was that he was OK. I loved the book. What I wanted to know as I read it though was, how on earth did you decide to write about this subject? I can't believe I now have the chance to ask you!

Also, is the reason you have had long intervals between novels due in part to the amount of research you do? You had obviously done extensive research into the subject of Middlesex. I haven't read your other novels so I don't know if they are as rooted in specific subjects, but if so, how do you pick your subject matter? Does inspiration strike unexpectedly from something you read or an anecdote you hear? Or do you set out in search of a subject when you are ready to work on a new novel?

The inspiration for MX came from two sources. The first was a book published by Michel Foucault called “Herculine Barbin: Memoir of a 19th century French Hermaphrodite.” The memoir promised to be an amazing document and I began it with great interest. Unfortunately, a large measure of my curiosity wasn’t satisfied by the document, and so I decided to write my own.

The second inspiration was, of course, Ovid, whose “Metamorphoses” my Latin class read in high school. There I encountered the figure of Tiresias, who had been both male and female. I thought I’d update his story and, rather than writing a myth, would try to be as accurate as I could about the biology and genetics involved. Research into intersex conditions led me to 5 alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome, which led me to genetics, which led me to genealogy, which led me Greece, and back to classicism. I did a huge amount of research for MX and that was one reason the book took me so long to write. I appreciate your question and wish you and your son the best.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:56:34

minimuffin

I haven't read The Marriage Plot or the Virgin Suicides, though I bought them both immediately after reading Middlesex earlier this year. The best-written novel I have read for a long, long time and one that I looked forward to wallowing in at the end of every day whilst I was reading it. As a family saga I loved it. Middlesex has particular resonance for me though as my eldest son was born with the same condition as Cal, although thanks to immediate diagnosis and a very skilled surgeon he will thankfully not face the same issues as Cal. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to read the book as I knew it would hit all kinds of nerves, and I did find parts upsetting and difficult to read, obviously, but I wanted to try to get as many perspectives as possible on the condition so that I can try to support my son as best I can as he grows up and begins to understand what happened to him. The book made me realise that in days gone by he would probably have been labelled as and lived as a hermaphrodite. I hadn't quite realised that and it sent me into a tailspin for a long time after reading it.... but it was beautifully and sympathetically written. I loved how it normalised everything - by the end of the novel you barely even remembered that the grandparents were brother and sister, their situation was so normal, so everyday, they were so much a product of their generation and surroundings that the most extraordinary thing about them was almost forgotten. The same was true of Cal to a degree - she (then he) was just a normal teen dealing with normal teen stuff until reality intervened but you felt you knew and liked him so much by the time of realisation that all that mattered was how he dealt with it. Whether he'd chosen to continue living as a woman or to do what he did and embrace being male, it didn't really matter. All that mattered was that he was OK. I loved the book. What I wanted to know as I read it though was, how on earth did you decide to write about this subject? I can't believe I now have the chance to ask you!

Also, is the reason you have had long intervals between novels due in part to the amount of research you do? You had obviously done extensive research into the subject of Middlesex. I haven't read your other novels so I don't know if they are as rooted in specific subjects, but if so, how do you pick your subject matter? Does inspiration strike unexpectedly from something you read or an anecdote you hear? Or do you set out in search of a subject when you are ready to work on a new novel?

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:53:23

Teaddict

Hi Jeffrey
I am a brand new fan as I have to admit I hadn't heard of you before! (Well that's what happens when you inherit your reading material from a sister)
I am really enjoying The Marriage Plot and will definitely get your other two books to read next.

Two quick and easy questions as I'm struggling with the americanisms... What are "wingtips" as in "he wore wingtips without socks" also what are "de Kooning" teeth?

Thanks

Wingtips are what I think you call brogues. Men’s dress shoes. “Late-de-Kooning teeth” refers to the teeth of women in the late paintings of Willem de Kooning. If you have a look at them, you’ll see what I mean.

yUMMYmUMMYb Thu 03-May-12 22:47:43

Thans for joining us, i am amaze that you are able to give such accurate descriptions of bipolar disorder from relatively basic research. Fab book

wickerman Thu 03-May-12 22:47:21

I have read your novels in reverse - I started with the marriage plot which I read 4 times - amazing, my brother has recently been diagnosed with bpd and your description of Leonard was extremely moving and accurate; then Middlesex - phenomenal and I am of Greek origin also which made sense of a lot of my family's traits and obsessions - and now wallowing in the dreamy limpid prose of Virgin Suicides for the 4th time. You are an incredible writer. I'm jealous.
Your novels seem to take you a long time. Why is this? Are you meticulous, a procrastinator, a teacher,a libertine, a tennis pro, a stay at home father? I suspect the first as the scope and sweep of your novels is immense.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:43:38

NancyMumsnet

Hi Jeffrey,

I've been a big fan of yours, ever since I got a copy of the Virgin Suicides when I was a teenager, and then when I picked Middlesex up a few years later, I couldn't put it down.

The Marriage Plot was TERRIFIC - oh my god!! I was gushing about it to everyone from about the first chapter on, and I couldn't put it down. I even found myself deliberately slowing myself from finishing it took quickly. I'm actually looking forward to re-reading it again. I don't think I ever related so much to each character individually before. What a joy it was to read. Thank you.

My question is that I've noticed that between all three of your books - Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, Marriage Plot - there's a theme of emerging teenage sexuality, confusion and subverted desire, particularly within young women (though this was obviously across more of a spectrum in Middlesex.)

Was this always an interest of yours - have you studied it? Obviously the Greek myth of Oedipus, with the themes of sex, desire, incest, forbidden and blindness appears in Middlesex, between Calliope and the Obscure Object in particular, but have you had any other education in the field? What draws you to writing about this?

True. Sort of. That was my local when I lived in Berlin. I didn’t write the book there but I did go there a lot and was and remain friendly with the owners. I could never write in a bar, however. But I love the Felsenkeller and derived “inspiration” there. In liquid form.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:42:47

Bellstar

Only bought the book today so have to get a move on if I want to join in on thursday!!

My question to the author is-

I looooooooooooved The virgin suicides-I read an excerpt in Cosmoblush when I was a young teen and ran straight out to buy it!!

But...I was disapointed in the film version? how did you feel about it? oh and if I am allowed to be cheeky and ask another question-why so long between books?<sobs>

I like Sophia and like all her films, including “mine.” Of course, you can’t replicate a novel in cinematic terms. They’re different animals. And TVS, with its odd narrative voice so fundamental to the novel, presents a particular problem for the filmmaker. Sophie caught the mood of the book, though, its atmosphere. I loved the soundtrack by “Air,” probably one of the most successful I know of. Great music all on it own.

JeffreyEugenides Thu 03-May-12 22:41:25

yUMMYmUMMYb

I really enjoyed this book enormously, and i would never have chosen to read it. Thanks for the free copy, i will be heartily recommending to friends. My question is about the theme of mental health - how did you research this topic? Your writing makes scenes appear so vivid, i loved your style. I lived with a manic depressive flat-mate for 3 years and your descriptions were uncannily accurate and remindedme so much of that time in my life.

Definitely the best bookof 2012 for me.

I didn’t do a great deal of research, mainly used the internet to acquaint myself with the chief symptoms of bipolar disorder and the treatments available in 1982, as well as the side effects of those medications. Then I threw myself imaginatively into Leonard’s mind and body and tried to describe what he felt like in his highs and lows.

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