Book Diary: Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)

MIDDLESEX, Jeffrey Eugenides

(finished reading on 11/05/2012)

I loved The Virgin Suicides when I first read it in 2000, so it’s a mystery to me why I’ve waited so long to read Middlesex.  It took the release of The Marriage Plot to kick me into action, making me realise that I was now officially ‘a book behind’ in the reading of Eugenides’ body of work.

After reading The Virgin Suicides, I was left in awe of how Eugenides seemed to know what it was like to be a teenage girl.  With Middlesex, I was similarly impressed by how he managed to elicit sympathy for every character, regardless of their weaknesses, of their crimes even.  He draws people (not it seems, just teenage girls) really brilliantly.

The novel begins with the story of Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides and the strength of the sympathy it provoked in me was such that I didn’t want their story to end and to move onto the next generation, as was the clear trajectory of the book.  However, even more impressively, when the time came, I didn’t notice!  It wasn’t until more than half way through the story of the next generation that I realised Lefty and Desdemona had been left mostly behind.  The same happened again, with the third generation

However, I think I have found a clue regarding Eugenides’ gift for evoking sympathy, explaining how he can speak so eloquently for women and girls, as well as men, boys, pensioners, teenagers.  Cal, the hermaphrodite protagonist in Middlesex, speaks of his ability to transcend gender and so, for me, illustrates Eugenides great talent also:

Already latent inside me, like the future 120 mph serve of a tennis prodigy, was the ability to communicate between the genders, to see not with the mono-vision of one sex but in the stereoscope of both.

(I also found an interesting, coincidental bridge between the last two books I have read – 1Q84 and Middlesex: they both reference the same fragment of Chekov.  Eugenides’ use is straightforward, directive:

Chekov’s first rule of playwriting goes something like this: ‘If there’s a gun on the wall in act one, scene one, you must fire the gun by act three, scene two.’

Predictably, Murakami’s use is much more figurative, saying only that Chekov states, that once a gun enters a story, it must be fired, more as if the gun were compelling the action over the free will of the character, or even the author)

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