0033 | Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

If you enjoyed this book, you’re going to love the map.

REVIEW
From page 1 until I ran headlong into the back cover, this was one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a long time. It certainly wasn’t the…

storyline which, for me, was all too predictable. But the way Eugenides writes it more than makes up for that. The most masterful thing about this writing is the perfect balance between Cal/liope the main character and the rest of the cast.

The story is told through the eyes of Cal, who is obviously therefore retelling a fascinating family history second or third hand. This works so very very well because Eugenides takes utmost care to flesh out Cal in intricate 3-D detail while only building up other characters as much as Cal himself would have been able to. Desdemona, the matriarchal grandmother with whom the story opens and, quite literally, finds its genesis, always seems a sketchy figure from the word go. Lefty, her husband, the same. Other characters, nearer the plot (her brother, the Object, etc) are much more vividly portrayed because Eugenides takes care to maintain Cal’s perspective at all times.

Nowhere is this more subtely and tellingly done than with his use of first and third person perspective. Reading along in the first person, you’d suddenly find yourself way out in third person before, at some significant juncture, being invited back into first. This was so neatly done that I was about halfway through the book before I realised this trick was being played on me. From them on, I read much more observantly. On reflection, this is an absolutely perfect motif to express the idenity crisis that plagues Cal for much of the book.

Another great touch is Eugenides’ ability to cater for the visual ones among us reeling off sequences as if we’re watching them on film, in time lapse or as background images to commentary. This style is most definitely a product of our video generation.

I’m not sure the author actually makes much of an authoritative statement about sexuality for all the space given over to describing it. But certainly the quote by one character that “sex is biological. Gender is cultural” is open to debate. If this book has a weakness it’s the lack of resolution of this very issue. It all seems very open-minded and that may well be the intention, but it seems slightly naive to claim that as long as we feel happy with our own sexuality that the road before us becomes nice and smooth.

In actual fact, if that quote is indeed true from the author’s perspective, it’s hard to see why Cal would need to make the changes he does. Raised female, Cal should have felt in his element being so. But he wasn’t, contrary to his culture. If sex is biologically determined, then, equally, we have an issue: it’s hard to see how a species can survive according to evolutionary principles if biology predisposes homosexuality.

So, for me, the book raised huge moral issues which it never dealt with effectively and that was somewhat frustrating. Then again, I don’t read fiction to discover answers to questions about how to live my life. I go elsewhere for that and foray into fiction to find out how the other half live. Middlesex was, for me, extremely instructive in that regard.

OPENING LINE
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

QUOTES

[men] cover you like a sarcophagus lid. And call it love.

In the end it wasn’t up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we’re born.

The black box [on pictures of medical cases]; a fig leaf in reverse, concealing identity while leaving shame exposed.

Whoever named it morning sickness was a man.

real life doesn’t live up to writing about it

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words.

Re churches: They let you in for free. Then you’ve got to pay for the rest of your life.

Re USA: when you come right down to it, this whole country’s stolen.

The funeral did what funerals are supposed to do: it gave us no time to dwell on our feelings.

WORDS
bowdlerise | bursitis | deracinate | dragees | hubris | karyotype | kegger | kiva | kundalini | postprandial | linden | | marcel | meiosis | nictitate | odalisque | palimpsest | paramecium | sybylline

CULTURE ~ NEW!
Greece» Tiresias | rebetika | tsoureki | spanikopita | pastitsio | galactoboureko | Melina Mercouri | Priapus
Latino» guayabera | mariachi
U.S.A.» muumuu | nonpareil | a Keane painting | a Sendak creature | scrapple | an Eames chair | Trader Vic’s | Pepto-Bismol | Chapter 11

GEOGRAPHY ~ NEW!
Koza Han: silk bazaar in Bursa, Turkey
Mt Olympus: there are two, one in present day Greece and traditional home of the gods, and one which is now referred to by its Turkish title of Mt. Uludag just SE of Bursa.
If you’ve got Google Earth installed on your pc, you can actually see the locations mentioned in this book by downloading Arukiyomi’s Google Earth – Middlesex file.

CLOSING LINE
This is a bit spoily so click if you want to read…show

RATING:
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

  • a.book.in.the.life June 10, 2007, 6:47 pm

    I am glad you enjoyed this book, I loved the various stories within it and as you say was interested by all the moral and social issues it brought with it.

    Reply
  • Dewey June 12, 2007, 3:42 am

    Mmmm spanikopita!

    This is my friend Cara’s favorite book. I liked it quite a bit, but it didn’t stand out as a big favorite.

    Reply
  • Kailana June 14, 2007, 7:35 pm

    Very nice review. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    Reply
  • bybee June 21, 2007, 7:20 pm

    I was disappointed by The Virgin Suicides, but I’ve heard so much good about Middlesex that I’d like to try it. Your reviewing style is engaging.

    Reply
  • Samantha July 3, 2007, 1:30 pm

    Chapter 11 = bankruptcy

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi July 3, 2007, 5:34 pm

    Well thank you Samantha! Now I get it!

    Reply
  • Imani July 23, 2007, 1:18 am

    I’ve heard so many things about this novel repeatedly, but I think your review is the one that’s convinced me to read it. (Half of it could be the awesome cover though. 😉 We definitely don’t have that one in Canada.)

    Reply
  • Kayleigh November 13, 2007, 7:48 pm

    This is my all time favourite book! I just adore the way Eugenides creates this character of Cal/lipoe and has him narrate his family history. It’s beautiful without being pretentious.

    Reply
  • 3M August 16, 2009, 7:20 pm

    I too liked the book, but my sister lovedit!

    Reply
  • mee September 19, 2009, 11:21 am

    The thing you said about the feeling of watching it on film is spot on. I too was so far into the book before I actually became aware of the first person-third person trick.
    The year hasn’t ended, but I think this book could be the book of the year for me.

    Reply
  • cipriano February 13, 2012, 5:12 am

    I’m just one-quarter into this book but already I SO love it. The style, the command — wow, it is just so strong. I cannot put it down, any comments I can make are so pre-emptive yet I wanted to see if you have a review of the book and here you do!
    It’s so true what you say about the intricate narration and also how the book so often has elements of the visual — as though one is watching a movie. Sometimes so blatantly, as when the narrator says “Freeze the action.” [p.109] Or, actually SAYS that the “film” is being rewound, “the sound track sounding funny in reverse.” [p.20]
    It’s so bold. So grand. I can’t put it down.

    Reply
  • Arukiyomi September 19, 2009, 1:23 pm

    thanks for adding me to your list of review links!

    Reply

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