And the gender-bending APRIL Book of the Month is....MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

(64 Posts)

MIDDLESEX has won our April poll (in a dead heat with SACRED COUNTRY, it narrowly scraped through by getting heads in a coin toss)

We'll be chatting about MIDDLESEX on Tuesday 28 April from 8pm to 10pm. Hope you can join us!

Don't forget you can order your copy here

And, for anyone who missed out on the vote here were April's book choices and this is how Book Club works.

JudithChalmers Wed 01-Apr-09 17:55:49

Right I have bought it

casbie Fri 03-Apr-09 10:22:11

ooh, read this years ago...

all you readers out there, your up for a treat!

: )

FreakGeek Fri 03-Apr-09 14:15:11

SUCH an amazing book- enjoy- quite jealous- wish i could erase memory of it and read it for the first time again.

babybarrister Sun 05-Apr-09 09:58:56

read it in my book club a couple of years ago - very good read save for the ending [in my humble opinion .....]!

TheBreastmilksOnMe Mon 06-Apr-09 19:45:10

Just bought the book. BTW for those of you who would like to buy books cheaply and help the environment at the same time Greenmetropolis.com is the website. I've managed to sell loads of my old books through it and whenever I want to buy a book, like I have just now I check if it's for sale there first. Greenmetropolis

stirlingstar Tue 07-Apr-09 16:27:01

I've just ordered it and it will be my first MN book club. Inspired by recent thread on what are you doing to improve yourself!

janeite Tue 07-Apr-09 16:40:06

I liked it! Can't remember much about it though unfortunately, so won't be able to join in the chat.

AbleSister Sun 12-Apr-09 22:01:13

I am reading.
i think they start was slow and odd.

loved ( well found engrossing) the SMyrna bit.
the desciption of detroit also fab.

TheBreastmilksOnMe Sun 19-Apr-09 21:09:20

I'm about halfway through at the moment and i'm finding it slow, overly descriptive and heavy-going. Maybe I'm missing something here but I just don't get it.

GracieGrace Sun 19-Apr-09 21:10:08

I finished it and adored it

GracieGrace Mon 20-Apr-09 10:24:30

in fact all the mn books i have read i have loved
thanks a lot

mummycat1 Wed 22-Apr-09 20:04:04

When do we vote for May's book?

May selection just coming - I will post the page next Tuesday 28 April (same day as our discussion night). We are doing the Orange Prize shortlist which was released 2 days ago - some great books on there...

I am finding the going quite slow with Middlesex too, although loving it. Need to get some serious speed reading done before Tues night. I've got a previous Q&A with his publisher that Mr Eudenides sent me, I'll post it up just before the chat so we can discuss that too.

DutchOma Fri 24-Apr-09 08:51:10

I'm not sure what to do about this book. I'm on page 65, very slow going, started as soon as the other book was finished, and I'm definitely not loving it at all. does it get better? Or do I abandon it?

mummycat1 Mon 27-Apr-09 13:09:38

DutchOma I felt the same way as you - too much irrelevant detail and too many laboured points - so I've just skimmed over most of it and stopped at interesting bits. The last part, which is actually about Cal is more interesting IMO smile

orangina Mon 27-Apr-09 20:09:08

I'm (re) reading it atm..... loved it then, am loving it again now. Agree that it took some time to get going though......

Dysgu Mon 27-Apr-09 20:36:24

Once I got into it I really enjoyed this book although, yes, there are some sections where it does seem to go on a bit!

pottycock Mon 27-Apr-09 20:40:54

Oh I loved this book. Fantastic.

I absolutely adore this book! It's one of my favourite ever reads but I can see why people wouldn't enjoy it.

For those of you who loved it, have you read anything by John Irving? I found his writing style similar to Eugenides and ^The Cider House Rules^ is probably grappling with Middlesex for my favourite ever read.

I absolutely adore this book! It's one of my favourite ever reads but I can see why people wouldn't enjoy it.

For those of you who loved it, have you read anything by John Irving? I found his writing style similar to Eugenides and ^The Cider House Rules^ is probably grappling with Middlesex for my favourite ever read.

Looking forward to this evening. Thought you might like to look at these snippets from the author beforehand.

Right, got to get back and finish the damn thing... see you at 8.

1) Where did the Hermaphrodite idea come from?

Nabokov said that great novels are great fairy tales. And what better fairy tale could there be than a story of metamorphosis, of changing from one thing into another? The original impetus for the book came from a literary disappointment. Years ago, I came across Michel Foucault's "Herculine Barbin: The Memoir of a 19th Century French Hermaphrodite." The story, on face value, seemed to me irresistible. It had everything: an overheated convent atmosphere, forbidden love, miraculous physical change. The problem was that Herculine Barbin couldn't write. Her memoir was a melodrama studded with exclamation points and evasions of the physical facts. Middlesex began as a simple spasm of self-aggrandisement on my part. I thought to myself: I could do it better. So I gave it a whirl. For the next nine years.

The character of the hermaphrodite has a long history in literature, from Ovid right down through Virginia Woolf. I see it as a classical subject. I chose to write about gender identity for the reasons people have always written about it. Plato spoke of the original human being as hermaphroditic. These two halves were sundered and therefore now we have to make reservations for dinner on Valentine's Day. I've always been fascinated by case histories of hermaphrodites and, from what I can tell, a lot of other people are too.

What drew me to the hermaphrodite as a subject was the chance to write about something fantastic that was, in fact, verifiable. Or as Cal's puts in the book, "my mythical life in the actual world." In literature, hermaphrodites have always been creatures of fancy. Mine was going to be an real person. I wanted to get the medical facts right. It was fine if the novel was a fairy tale. But it also had to be true.

2) In the Virgin Suicides the narrator was a whole group of men, in “Middlesex" someone with both male and female sensibilities. Do you like to make things hard for yourself?

I seem to. I wish I could get over it. But the voice of the novel, Cal's voice, was the first great problem I had writing the book. It took me literally years to arrive at it. It wasn't only its androgynous qualities I had to worry about. The voice had to be elastic enough to narrate epic events in the third person as well as a deeply personal, psychosexual drama in the first person. Compared to Cal's voice, the collective narrator of "The Virgin Suicides" came easy, in one go, really. With Cal's voice I had to fuss around for a very long time before it came together.

3) The adult Cal is a third generation American Greek immigrant living in Berlin, who bears a striking resemblance to yourself. Is there much of you in him and what deductions can the reader make from this?

Because I was writing such an incredible story, I had to ground it in reality in order to make it credible for myself and, hopefully, the reader as well. That's why I drew on a lot of surface details from my own, supposedly real, life. Berlin, where I've been living the past three years, came into the book only at the very end, when I rewrote the frame story. As for the physical resemblance, that's really not true. Cal is immune to the effects of dihydrotestosterone. He will never lose his hair.

Writers are forever warning readers not to confuse them with their characters. But readers go on doing so. I think it's a lost cause to plead this case. Cal's life is so far from my own experience, at least on a medical level, that I made him resemble me to bridge the gap.

4) In the same vein, to what degree does the family history of Cal correspond to your own?

The same rule applies here: the family in the book resembles my own only on a superficial level. My grandparents did indeed immigrate to the United States from Asia Minor, but, at the risk of disappointing you, I must insist that they were not brother and sister. The locales in the book come from real life, the houses in Detroit and Grosse Pointe. I actually grew up on Middlesex Blvd. There it was all those years, emblazoned on our street sign: my title. My grandfather did run a bar & grill but my father never went into the restaurant business. He was a mortgage banker. My mother isn't even Greek.

5) The Greek immigrant story in America is not one that is widely known. Did you feel that the story needed to be told?

As hermphroditism came into it, classicism came into it. As classicism came into it, Hellenism came into it. As Hellenism came into it, my family came into it. I used my Greek roots because they were handy, not out of any ethnic boosterism. That said, being Greek plays a big role in the novel. I learned a lot about my heritage by writing the book. On superstitious days, I did feel that I was communing with the dead in the only way I know how: imaginatively, in words. It was a means of finally knowing my grandparents, who died when I was still young. It was a way of returning to Europe and the Old World.

6) What are the major literary influences on your writing?

I studied Latin for seven years in high school and college. The single greatest influence on me at a formative age was reading the Aeneid, line by line. That's where I learned to read. And that's where I first began to have some idea of the complexity and patterning of a literary work. Looking at my work thus far, I sometimes think to myself that it was that epic, the Aeneid, that influenced me more than any other book. It had a burning city in it, too, remember. There were supernatural elements and grand addresses to the reader. Closer to our own time, I've been influenced mainly by the great Russians (Tolstoy and Nabokov), and the great American Jews (Bellow and Roth.)

mummycat1 Tue 28-Apr-09 12:04:31

So the moral of the story is don't sh**g your brother! Guess we knew that one already. grin

Lizzzombie Tue 28-Apr-09 14:20:08

Can I just say, I really enjoyed this book, and recommended it to my sister a few years ago. She didn't bother reading it but brought it for her FIL for Christmas, thinking it was the history of Middlesex. When I explained that it most certainly wasn't that kind of book (on xmas eve) she had to get her MIL to steal the present away at the last minute!

Okay, first let me come clean and say there are whole swathes of this book that I had to skim over because I was a) not sure if I needed to know it all in that much detail and b) desperate to finish by tonight. So I might be a little sketchy in parts.

But on the whole, I thought it was incredibly imaginative, tackling massive subjects such as fate and destiny as well as being very funny and perceptive. The gender issue is much less important than I thought it would be - I felt the real subject is how you become who you are through family, random decisions made over decades, the passions that flare up and die.

Did everyone find the style too hardgoing to enjoy? And do you think the rambling style was intentionally digressive, mimicking the randomness and detail of all those ancestors and events that led to the present moment? Or perhaps trying to be like an old Greek epic?

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