Wednesday 27 April 2011

Devouring Books: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Whilst reading Middlesex, I felt like I'd been a little rough on Eugenides when I reviewed The Virgin Suicides- one book I didn't like does not a bad author make. Going into Middlesex with relatively low expectations, then, I really wasn't expecting such an epic novel- and epic is really the only word to describe this extraordinary book. I was honestly hooked from the very beginning, and I pretty much loved everything about the story, and now I understand why people like Jeffrey Eugenides so much!

Everything you need to know about Middlesex is really detailed on the very first page, but it's not something you realise unless you look back to the beginning at the end and have a little gasp as you realise that everything the narrator mentioned actually happened, and how interesting each of the little events really is. Middlesex is really really difficult to describe in a sensible coherant way, whilst also making it sound interesting and avoiding spoilers. But I'll have a go anyway!

Middlesex is probably the most aptly named book I've ever read, since it is narrated by a hermaphrodite, essentially someone who is middle-sex. It also happens to be the name of the house the family move into in the middle of the novel, but that's almost incidental to the meaning it holds for me. Our narrator has the peculiar position of being both an omniscient narrator and a character in the novel, a position that can be difficult to straddle, but one that Eugenides manages to pull off almost effortlessly. The novel, then, is based around the hermaphrodite status of our narrator, but this, again, is more of an excuse rather than anything for the epic scope of this novel, spanning 2 continents and 3 generations, as it means that the narrator can track the journey of their pesky gene, but the things that happen to this family are much more interesting than the gene status of one of its members.

There is so much to love about this novel, the family events that you can relate to as, if not being entirely the same as things that have happened to your family, then that are told in the same way- the anecdotes in the novel being as homely and lovely as if they had been told in your own living room (which, I suppose, they may have been depending on where you read this book!) This is not to say that the novel is all sunshine and flowers (and if it was, I probably would have liked it much less) and there is in fact a great deal of tragedy in the novel, which is not that surprising considering that the family is Greek! But in this, it is very true to life- no life is ever completely perfect, and this novel realises and reflects that in the events that it retells.

In spanning two continents, Middlesex begins in what is technically Turkey, I believe (I'm a little sketchy on the details here!) and then goes on its great voyage to America, where most of the novel takes place. As just a personal preference, and I'm not saying that this is a fault with the novel at all, I didn't really like or, I suppose connect with the part that took place in Turkey at all. I think the problem here was threefold, in it being an unfamiliar setting, an unfamiliar era, and an unfamiliar event (the Great Fire of Smyrna... yep, me neither!) to me, all of which left me in a certain state of confusion, especially since the novel is initially set up as being in America, and I love me some American goodness! But, as I said, this is not a fault of the novel, but I guess a fault of my own brain, and to be honest it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the novel at all. So if you're like me, at this point of the novel I would urge you to keep going!

So, overall, Middlesex was not at all what I was expecting from the author of what I found to be an iffy novel, and I was blown away by what he was capable of. I urge you to read Middlesex, and I assure you that you won't at all be disappointed!


  1. I read about this book initially a while ago. The book is certainly different I believe.

  2. I am the cheese that stands alone when it comes to this book. I have tried to read it three different times and just cannot get into it. Truly, I try. Especially because EVERYONE else LOVES the damn thing! Ah well.

  3. I liked The Virgin Suicides, I think he has a very unique way of writing. I'm adding Middlesex to my TBR stack right now.

  4. @Christina- its seriously so good when they get out of turkey or wherever and get to America (this is obvs because America is way amazing!) be brave! Hehe

    @Jenn- it's seriously so much better than the virgin suicides (IMHO, anyway!) yay for me influencing more of your reading though ;) hehe