I am a Religious Studies graduate who loves classics, particularly the Victorian era, and I was once in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder. If you've read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, you know from that that this book was an important one for me to read, and also, that this is a hard post to write. And for those who haven't read this book: of the three main characters, one, Madeleine, is an English Literature student then graduate who loves the Regency and Victorian period, and she is in a relationship with the second character, Leonard, who has bipolar disorder. The third, Mitchell, is a Religious Studies graduate attempting to make sense of the world.
I've already written a few observations so far, but it's not helping me to use that post as a jumping board. Nothing is, actually. I'm not sure what to say. I did love it, and I read it during every free moment. It's not without it's faults, but what is? Even Zola has his moments.
I'm trying to think about what I've read about this book: that it's pretentious, and the characters are unlikeable. The latter is true to an extent, and one wonders what one character finds to love about the other, but isn't that true of life anyway? They're hardly the most unlikeable characters in literature, and just the other day I was thinking of a friend's wife and wondering what on earth kept him from not leaving her. So, I'd hardly say that was a valid criticism.
Mitchell, the RS graduate, was an interesting one for me, although it rather perpetuated the myth that Religious Studies students are all either religious or wish to be. Oh, the times I've been asked if I wanted to be a nun... This is not so. A great many of the people on my course were, like me, studying the sociological and anthropological side of some of the newer religions, as well as the very ancient (animism, shamanism, and the like). But, then, Mitchell was never supposed to represent your typical RS student, so what does that matter?
As for Leonard and Madeleine. Ah, that's the crux here. This was hard to read, brought me down, and made me remember things better forgotten. Thinking about the whole thing... I'm pretty much pausing after each sentence I write, chewing on a paper clip and looking at the budgies. I don't know what to say of it. Was it realistic? Was it good writing? How do I compare my experiences? I've been thinking of this [at this point Myshkin's just flown into my head: a sign to just get on and write this].
I think, I suspect, it takes a certain amount of experience and wisdom to deal with some of the problems thrown at you when you're in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, which is something both Madeleine and I were rather lacking. The highs: often, literature portrays mania as a sort of ecstatic experience, almost blissful. Perhaps my experience of it isn't typical, but it looked to me, in reality, to be a rather painful experience: full of uncontainable nervous energy fraught with disaster. Viewing it from the outside... Well, it depends how close you are to the person and how much understanding you have of the condition. Amusing company? No, not when you're close: it's terrifying. There are indeed sleepless nights, phone calls to and from the police, and a constant sense of panic. This is something I don't think Eugenides truly expressed. You cannot imagine what it really, truly is like to sit and wait for the phone to ring, praying for the man you're in love with, praying it will be even the police with good news, and when the "withheld" call comes through, the strange voice saying "This is Northumbria Police" (or wherever)... Beyond my powers of expression, anyway. Like Fate and Fortune are tearing your insides out. Really not something I particularly want to remember, which accounts for my general downer this week. But it's over, it's over. What of the book? The terror perhaps wasn't expressed so well, but the frustration was, and perhaps that's why people didn't like Madeleine so much. I didn't, particularly, she was a little self-important, but I don't dislike her for her frustration. The evenings of getting ready for something and to be greeted with a wall: it's awful, and that doesn't take much imagination to accept. Of course, the worry of what it is you'll be greeted with is another factor.
The medication - Leonard "experimenting" with lithium - very common, and my heart went out to him, despite all my thoughts in the past of "Just stay on your damn medication". I knew, Leonard knew, and Madeleine knew it was more complicated than that. Even so, you think it. "Just take the damn medication". Very simplistic, but who doesn't want an easy life? All the same, it seems a shameful thing to write.
Obviously, I can't write about what it is to experience being bipolar, but what I've seen for myself, Eugenides portrayal seems to me to be fairly accurate. He's a good writer, but we know that from The Virgin Suicides. He is a very engaging writer. All I seem to have down is criticise this book, and what I said in the other post: the unquestioned assumption that love hurts: that is a lot of people's experience, so I don't think it does much good for me to say otherwise lest I deny people's "truths" as it were. Still I'm of the belief that obsession hurts, unrequited love, and suspected unrequited love.
This isn't something I want to think about any more. I think sometimes one comes across a book and it's so close, one evaluates it entirely according to one's own experience. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. This one was too close for comfort, and it's subject was familiar and not something I particularly want to dwell on. I was relieved to have finished it, though I read it with complete focus and attention. It's a good book to have read, but it was nice to close it, and now I've written this it will be nice to put it back on my shelf. I gave it five stars on Goodreads, but I don't know if I love it or hate it, or even if it's good or not. It's a book and it's there to be read, and so many people are talking about it so best to have read it to join in.
Anyway, once this post is up then that is that. I'm still reading Confederacy of Dunces and still not reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. I think a Bill Bryson might be in order, or a Jeeves. There's no need to be pulled back anywhere. I'm here and I'm staying. Maybe it's a good thing to remember bad things. I hope I find a book this week or next that I really fall in love with, that I can write about with enthusiasm and excitement.