My friend M. found the beginning of this book to be quite pretentious. And it is. It’s pretentious AF for the first 60 or so pages. And it’s hard to read pretention too. The first few pages, especially, seem to drag and serve no purpose other than to make you re-think your decision to read it.
But, I’m here to tell you that, while the first part of The Marriage Plot is definitely pretentious, it’s pretentious for a reason. The pretention of Madeline and her parents and her classmates at Brown, including her boyfriend Leonard and her want-to-be-boyfriend, Mitchell, all play a very important role in the novel. And, after you realize that, it just makes the book that much better. And it really is a very, very good book.
Madeline is a WASP from New Jersey graduating from Brown University in 1987. She is athletic, intelligent, pretty and wealthy. She is an English major, not because “English was what people majored in when they didn’t know what to major in” but because she loved literature. Especially literature that includes a “marriage plot” (think Jane Austen) because she is also a hopeless romantic.
However, by her senior year, Madeline, using a “reflexive ability to separate the cool from the uncool,” honed from years of being popular, realized that English was no longer cool. Semiotics was now the cool new, revolutionary thing. And so Maddy joined a small seminar class to learn semiotics. While in that class, she becomes enthralled with a book called A Lover’s Discourse and with another student, named Leonard.
The book explores Madeline’s relationship with Leonard who, while brilliant, is also chemically unbalanced and different from Maddy in nearly every way. It also explores Madeline’s relationship with her friend, Mitchell, who, unlike Leonard, “was the kind of smart, sane, parent-pleasing boy she should fall in love with and marry.” And it explores Madeline’s, Leonard’s and Mitchell’s relationships with themselves.
Ultimately though, the book is about being in a relationship with someone who is mentally ill and why you might stay and why you might leave. And I thought it was very well done. Honestly, once you get through the first 60 pages, the book is pretty darned amazing. It’s definitely well worth the read. Also, not for nothing, but, for me, it was one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in some time.