It's in mapping Mitchell's search for some sort of belief that might fill the spiritual hole in his heart and Madeleine's search for a way to turn her passion for literature into a vocation that this novel is at its most affecting, reminding us with uncommon understanding what it is to be young and idealistic, in pursuit of true love and in love with books and ideas.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel—and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes)—conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger—and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Theresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them.
(Starred review.) The way of true love never works out, except at the end of an English novel." So says Trollope in Barchester Towers, one of those English novels where "the marriage plot" thrived until it was swept aside by 20th-century reality. Now Roland Barthes's contention that "the lover's discourse is today of an extreme solitude" better sums up the situation. Or so English literature-besotted Madeleine, 1980s Brown graduating senior, comes to discover. Giving in to the zeitgeist, Madeleine takes a course on semiotics and meets Leonard, who's brilliant, charismatic, and unstable. They've broken up, which makes moody spiritual seeker Mitchell Grammaticus happy, since he pines for Madeleine. But on graduation day, Madeleine discovers that Leonard is in the hospital—in fact, he is a manic depressive with an on-again, off-again relationship with his medications—and leaps to his side. So begins the story of their love (but does it work out?), as Mitchell heads to Europe and beyond for his own epiphanies. Verdict: Your standard love triangle? Absolutely not. This extraordinary, liquidly written evocation of love's mad rush and inevitable failures will feed your mind as you rapidly turn the pages. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
(Starred review.) A stunning novel—erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships. Dazzling work—Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists.
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