I loved this book! Loved it! I'm feeling so enthusiastic about it that I can't control the exclamation points! It was that good!
But no, really, this was such a perfect book for me to read (as I'll discuss later - because I'm not sure everyone will feel quite so strongly). It's basically about three people's intertwined lives (Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell); it starts with their time together at Brown University and follows them through the first year and a half after graduation. You also get glimpses into their families' lives.
As you can infer from that description, it's a pretty character-driven novel; but at the same time, the plot moves along nicely, in my opinion. Different parts are written in different points of view, so that propels the plot a little bit, too.
As I said, though, I'm not sure the book would be for everyone. I think the main reason I loved it so much was because I was an English major in college. The first 127 pages happen while they're at Brown, and honestly, this whole section was just a joy for me to read! It talks a lot about literary theory (which I happened to love when I studied it senior year of college) - and so I remembered some of the readings that shape that part of the plot (Barthes, Derrida, Culler, etc.), but more importantly, I remember the feeling of learning literary theory and having my mind blown by it. Seriously. I'd been reading books and analyzing them my whole life, but until first semester of my senior year of college, I didn't even know there were different schools of analysis and interpretation. It made everything analyzed by me before that point seem somewhat uneducated because I didn't understand what I was really doing.
But then, and this is where my love of the first 127 pages of the novel really really comes into play, I can look back now as an adult and see how funny it is that I took myself so seriously! And how insignificant literary theory is to the real world! And that's how the first part of the book is written. It's hysterical, actually - I laughed out loud at some of the outrageous, over-absorbed college students.
So here is some criteria that I think might help you decide if you'd love the book versus just liking it because it's an interesting story:
1) If you were an English major.
2) If you took yourself (and what you were learning) maybe a little too seriously in college and you can look back and laugh about it now.
3) If you didn't take yourself too seriously, but you can remember some of the students around you who did
and laugh at them.
4) If you appreciate Academia, but can also laugh at some of the things that make it funny (and inclusive and/or irrelevant to the "real world").
5) If you went to a small liberal arts college. (I guess I never experienced another type of college experience, but I think the small schools in particular draw in certain students that are just sort of funny when you look back on them now.)
One of the funny parts of the book that sticks out to me happens when some of the students are in a class on the first day of the semester. The teacher asks them to introduce themselves and share a couple biographical tidbits..."The boy without eyebrows spoke up first. 'Um, let's see. I'm finding it hard to introduce myself, actually, because the whole idea of social introductions is so problematized. Like, if I tell you that my name is Thurston Meems and that I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, will you know who I am? O.K. My name's Thurston and I'm from Stamford, Connecticut. I'm taking this course because I read Of Grammatology last summer and it blew my mind.' When it was the turn of the boy next to Madeleine, he said in a quiet voice that he was a double major (biology and philosophy) and had never taken a semiotics course before, that his parents had named him Leonard, that it had always seemed pretty handy to have a name, especially when you were being called to dinner, and that if anyone wanted to call him Leonard, he would answer to that." (page 25)
I LOVE IT! The boy without eyebrows. The "problematized" social introductions (and using the term "problematized"). Derrida blowing his mind. The identity of a name. It's just classic over-eager, too-serious college student and I love it!
So yeah, I highly recommend this book. I actually really nerded out while reading it. (I also really nerded out while writing this blog post, I think.) Anyway, it's worth a read, I recommend!