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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Funny, Clever And A Bit Tedious

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides

The Guardian described this as a post-modern take on nineteenth century romance and I can't improve on that. The time is the end of the twentieth century and the central characters are three American students at the end of their undergraduate years coming to terms with the big questions: love, career and even God.

Packed with cultural references and literary allusions it's an examination of the interaction of the individual with his or her culture, and in particular with his or her literary culture. Under the influence of Barthes, Derrida and co. the central character, Madeleine, a devotee of Victorian literature, self-consciously deconstructs her own emotions and her emotional landscape but still somehow manages to end up in the same sort of situation as Dorothea in George Eliot's Middlemarch.

It's a big, sprawling novel and while there was much that was funny, clever and moving, it was also a bit tedious at times. I think it could have worked just as well at two thirds the length.

There are plenty of good moments among all those words, however. My favourite lines were from the book's biggest loser, manic-depressive Leonard. Reflecting on his troubled childhood, he decides:

The worst part was that, as the years passed, these memories became, in the way you kept them in a secret box in your head, taking them out every so often to turn them over and over, something like dear possessions. They were the key to your unhappiness. They were the evidence that life wasn’t fair. If you weren’t a lucky child, you didn’t know you weren’t lucky until you got older. And then it was all you ever thought about.