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

(64 Posts)
TillyBookClub Mon 30-Mar-09 13:40:45

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.

WibblyPigRocks Tue 28-Apr-09 20:12:25

I did find the detail unnecessary at times - I just skimmed the bits that I found a bit dull and I don't think I've lost anything by doing so.

I did wonder whether some of the superfluous detail was actually intended to distract us. In that excerpt above, Eugenides describes the narrative voice as 'elastic' and I found the frequent change from 3rd to 1st person a bit unsettling at times - especially when Cal was just talking about himself. I understand that this could represent the way that Cal has struggled with his own identity, as well as the way his identity is part of (and a product of) his ancestors', but I also thought that the author was trying to encourage the reader to feel uncomfortable, perhaps like Cal did.

DutchOma Tue 28-Apr-09 20:13:29

I gave up on page 87. I didn't enjoy it at all and was not sure that I would enjoy the rest of it. I may be missing out on the best book ever, but oh well...
What's for May Tilly?

WibblyPigRocks Tue 28-Apr-09 20:15:25

I enjoyed the 'family saga' element to the story, though. The description of Greece and the journey to America was fascinating and very emotive. At times, though, I did feel like I was reading the script for a channel 5 documentary and I wondered whether I was reading on because the narrative style was compelling or because I wanted to find out when (or rather HOW) Cal discovered she was a hermaphrodite.

stirlingstar Tue 28-Apr-09 20:15:52

I personally found the rambling a bit hardgoing, as to me it didn't really add much to the story of Cal the hermaphrodite.

I thought that the author was going to bring out some ideas about how the Greek heritage played in to Cal's experience of the 'middle sex', or helped him to deal with the experience, or something. But other than a VERY long backstory about how the genes came to be in place, I didn't think this really worked. And however much the gene bit was described in flowery language, I didn't find it made the genetics very charismatic.

In fact Cal himself was really cut out of the story. I wanted a story about the experience of hermaphradotism (? is that a word), but most of that story (between Cals teens and his random resurfacing in Berlin) was missing.

Maybe I'm just a disappointed voyeur.

WibblyPigRocks Tue 28-Apr-09 20:17:35

Stirlingstar - I agree about the part of the story that's missing. How did Cal find his place in the world?

Referring back to my channel 5 doc comments, I'm sure that makes me a disappointed voyeur!!

barbara3 Tue 28-Apr-09 20:19:06

I did not finish it - but I am thoroughly enjoying it so far - about 150p in. Wibbly pig - I like the way you have interpreted the writing style and so far would go along with that - will be watching this thread....... Loved the writing style

stirlingstar Tue 28-Apr-09 20:21:55

And on the Berlin thing, why? Is there something that's gone over my head about the symbolism of Berlin in a story about Greece/Detroit/Hermaphrodites? In his Q&A the author implies that it's chosen just because that's where the author lives - but then that's a bit lazy isn't it?

stirlingstar Tue 28-Apr-09 20:26:53

WPR - what did you think when you did get to the bit where Cal discovered he/she was a hermaphrodite?

TillyBookClub Tue 28-Apr-09 20:30:49

May is a choice of six Orange Prize sortlisters - just putting the thread up now and will post here when done...

I don't know if you're missing out on the best book ever, but I would say that there are so many different compartments to it, so many pieces of history and characters that its worth carrying on because you are bound to find parts that interest you. I never knew the Turks burnt Smyrna (and that image of the doctor's son running to the door before beind bayonetted through his pyjamas is huanting me).

WibblyPig, I think you are right, the writing style does make you feel confused. And it does help to show how limitless and indescribable each individual human being can be.

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-09 20:35:02

I just finished it tonight and have really enjoyed it, though am not completely sure why - perhaps just a sense of achievement in finishing something so long.

It was interesting that it kept your attention and you wanted to know what happened even though, because of the structure you already knew Cal was living as a man in Berlin.It did feel like an old greek epic and I quite enjoyed that generational saga.

I thought the scenes with The Object were well observed ad quite gripping as was the Dr Luce stuff

I thought it got a bit far fetched at the end with the Father Mike plot.

I spent a lot of time brooding on how I would cope, as a parent, how you would cope with something like this happening to my child, but I'm not sure that was what the author really wanted us to do - but I do find I view everything thro parent-coloured specs these days!

I also thought hermaphroditism aside, Cal would have been a lot more tortured by the fact that her/his running away basically caused his/her father's death.

Kids calling - be back soon.

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-09 20:39:10

...oh and agree with the ignorance about Smyrna and the horrific images haunting you afterwards.

Was surprised how accepting I was about the brother marrying sister - I thought that relationship, particularly the early bit was written with real tenderness

WibblyPigRocks Tue 28-Apr-09 20:44:03

stirlingstar - I'm not actually 100% where Cal did discover that!! Was it when having sex with Jerome? He/she said she knew but I can't quite understand 'what' he/she knew. So, was the real moment of discovery after the accident? With Dr Luce? I suppose she knew she was different (I've gone for 'she' as she was a she at this point, but as the narrator is undoubtedly the male Cal, should I write 'he'?) but didn't have the biological understanding until later. There was, perhaps, gradual understanding with other things, too.

I suppose I was a bit disappointed in a way - I almost wanted something more dramatic. As I'm writing that, though, it sounds silly - what's more dramatic than sex and a farm accident?! Perhaps it's because the narrator played it down - both of these events are described more in terms of how they shaped Cal's relationship with The Object than of how they helped shape his (ha ha - why did I write 'his' then?) sexual identity.

What did you think?

whistlejacket Tue 28-Apr-09 20:46:20

I've only got halfway through but enjoying it so far, even if it does meander quite a lot. Like Tilly I found the historical background fascinating, I'd only heard vaguely about those things happening so it was interesting to find out more. I like the theme of immigrants settling in their new country and I think the characters are quite well depicted. A huge amount of irrelevant detail though which I was thinking for a time would all have relevance later but I'm now guessing not!

WibblyPigRocks Tue 28-Apr-09 20:46:27

Agree, Carrie - I would have expected to be more horrified at the brother/sister thing but it was written in a very sympathetic way. The narrator really encouraged the reader to 'understand' their feelings and circumstances, yet I would have expected Cal to feel resentful - after all, these events apparently led to his hermaphroditism.

WindUpBird Tue 28-Apr-09 20:46:34

I'm only up to the bit where Cal's parents are beginning a 'courtship', so nowhere near finished. Agree that it is not an easy read. I enjoy reading it but it isn't taking over my life in the way that a really good book does.
Stirlingstar...I'm not sure about the Berlin thing, does Cal mention early on something about the significance of a divided city becoming whole again?

TillyBookClub Tue 28-Apr-09 20:50:47

Interesting that he didn't try to tackle how Des and Lefty's parents would have felt about it.

Somewhere I read a review that said it was the lack of any other choice that led Lefty to pour out lust on his sister (with those two other girls on the hillside not taking his fancy). But I think they way it was portrayed showed true emotion. Do you think if they hadn't been forced to flee and stayed home it would have worked?

And how does everyone feel about the idea of their kids getting married? I've only got two boys and can't quite imagine a further gay twist in the story, so haven't really got to grips with what I might feel.

missclovis Tue 28-Apr-09 20:50:49

I really enjoyed the grand themes, big characters and coincidences in this book. For example, incest, race, homosexuality, drugs,blackmail, and hermaphrodism. This made it feel like a mythical tale where the characters were victims of their destiny. And the fact that it was also very funny at times ( the bit at the end with Father Mike and the father was great) made it one of the best things I read in ages. I thought it was an American immigrant novel (like stuff by Philip Roth) but with the additional dimension of being told by someone who was also an outsider by gender. This made Cal a very unusual narrator. I too was intrigued by how he found his place in the world but I think the task he set himself was to tell his family's story through his own experience.

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-09 20:50:58

I think one of the things that kept me reading (and it links to the c5 voyeurism thing) is wanting to know if he'd decided to properly become a he - ie have surgery etc. Is that very news of the world of me? shock

I think it's probably indicative of one of the things the book was about - society demanding that you are one gender or another - that I wanted him "tidied" up, both a mental and physical decision made, so that he could have a more "normal" life. I really wanted it to work with Julie but - again projecting like I did with parents - couldn't imagine how I'd react if a bloke I was dating told me something like that!

stirlingstar Tue 28-Apr-09 20:55:03

I agree that there wasn't one single moment when Cal discovered it (unless maybe with Dr Luce learning the exact words for it).

Have to say my initial reaction was to be a bit peeved that there were now so few pages left in the book I guessed that I wasn't going to read much about life after the discovery!

Was the narrator playing it down - or perhaps this part of the story was nicely paced as a realistic real life reaction? In contrast to the very slow middle of the book and the 'and then I became a performer in a strange swimming-pool based sexual freak show and then my Dad died in a road chase with my Uncle' ending.

Actually, that makes me think of the early part of the story, about the developing relationship between brother and sister - I also thought that part was very well written and very nicely paced - agree with Carriemumsnet.

barbara3 Tue 28-Apr-09 20:58:20

I think Berlin is a background because of the once east/ west divide ... male/ female divide type parallel divide and 2 opposites fighting for unity in one type theme

whistlejacket Tue 28-Apr-09 21:00:46

Yes I agree Carrie, the fact that Cal is a hermaphrodite is making me read on. If he was simply a 'normal' narrator I think I would consider giving up now and reading something else. But I really want to know what has happened in his life as a hermaphrodite.

I once watched a documentary on children and teenagers who are 'mixed sex' it was really fascinating to see how they dealt with it. Sadly they did seem to be outsiders but some were adamant to remain how they were and not have surgery.

stirlingstar Tue 28-Apr-09 21:00:51

(My two boys are absolutely besotted with one another (15 wks and 2.4), so maybe they will marry...)

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-09 21:05:57

I think everyone would be appalled at thought of their kids getting married to each- tho on some level you might feel you'd done a good job if they loved each other rather than wanting to fight all the time

In the book it felt like a different world, where this sort of thing was relatively common - choice was limited and life was short and brutal. The way they worked on forgetting that they were brother and sister was really well observed - I think we've all done that, recreated a truth and then told ourselves it's true enough times to start believing it.

If the hermaphroditism had come as a shock revelation - it might have made me regret my acceptance of the brother sister relationship, but as it was there from the start and the narrator seemed Ok with it, I think it allowed you to accept the incest.

Sorry am rambling....

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-09 21:07:55

btw my dd did want to marry ds when they were 6 and 3. I said if they still wanted to at 18 that was fine by me... funnily enough now they're 7 and 10 they're not so keen. The 3 year old dd does still want to marry her dad though grin

TillyBookClub Tue 28-Apr-09 21:10:14

And just want to add: I thought perhaps the baggy parts of the book were because the author grew up in Detroit and sometimes lost himself in a world of nostalgia and history and research which must have had huge resonance to him but pass us by.

Perhaps that's true of all of it- so much was his own Greek-American immigrant history, it was a little like someone showing you their family photo album and spending an hour talking through each page.

I did love his description of coming home as 'a canine feeling, full of eager love and dumb to tragedy'.

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