Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Of course, that's a fine way to tell a story. But here's the problem: The "rehashing" parts are all much, much longer than the real-time parts, so the novel has the effect of seeming like a book report of the book this book was supposed to be. We feel like we're constantly reading summary, not story.
Here's the other problem: The first 100 pages are a LOT about literary theory and semiotics, which not only adds to the "book report" feel, but also makes the beginning of the novel feel like a freshman weed-out class — it's tough to get through, but once you do, you're supposed to be treated to the "good part." But what happens here is that high expectations for this novel (based on how awesome Middlesex was) are almost immediately dampened. And unfortunately, the novel never fully recovers.
So the rest of the story is about Madeleine and Leonard's troubled life together, and Mitchell's travels throughout Europe, during which time his college crush, Madeleine, is never far from his mind. But is Mitchell really in love with Madeleine, or is he in love with the idea of being in love with Madeleine?
Look, I'm more surprised than anyone I didn't like this novel. I'm willing to allow that certain readers who have more of an appreciation for 19th century literature (Madeleine considers herself a "Victorianist" and loves novels by writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters) may decode some allusions in this novel that I missed, and therefore like it much more. And furthermore, parts of the novel are amazingly lucid and insightful. Other than the first 100 pages, this is a really smooth, easy-to-read book.
But sadly, Eugenides fluid prose can't save many other snooze-inducing episodes — eg., as we learn about Leonard's family history and while Mitchell is working in India. So I'm giving this 3 out of 5 stars.
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 9:53 AM