Saturday 28 May 2011

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book can only be described in one word: epic.  I picked it up at the library expecting the story of a hermaphrodite, and it was, but it was also so much more.  It was a sweeping family saga detailing the lives of three generations of Greek-Americans, the Stephanides.  Calliope Stephanides, in the third generation, is a genetic/ chromosomal male raised as a girl.  When she reaches puberty and her biological identity becomes apparent, she starts to uncover her family history and the reasons why she might have been born the way she was.

The thing I loved most about this book was the characters.  Eugenides deals with a large cast over a long time period immaculately, making each family member distinct and allowing them to develop over time.  The way the characters related to each other was superbly written too, and the story of Cal's grandparents was probably my favourite part of the book.  The middle section, about Cal's parents, lagged a little by comparison, but the final section about Cal was breathtaking.  The scene where Cal's doctor is pushing her towards a treatment option without revealing the full truth is creepy indeed.

As I cared so much about the characters, this book was hard to put down.  I read it during a busy week at work and was frequently frustrated that I didn't have more time in the evenings to pick it up.  The writing was very good (although different from The Virgin Suicides), descriptive without being overwhelming.  The only criticism I would make of the writing is that I don't think Eugenides ever really conveyed what it must have been like for Calliope to deal with the information that she was actually a boy.  The emotional turmoil was hinted at, but I never really understood what it would be like to be Cal.

One of the reasons I chose to read this book is because I loved The Virgin Suicides.  After reading both I think I still enjoyed The Virgin Suicides more.  It's not as epic or as masterful, but there was something in the writing that made it easier to get into the heads of the characters and the story, and therefore it was more memorable to me.  I accept I'm probably in the minority on this one though.

Verdict: Highly recommended - go and get your hands on a copy!
Source: Library
Score: 5 out of 5


  1. I've had this one on my TBR shelf for a while...I need to get it out and get busy :) Great review!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I need to read it for a challenge and I keep putting it off. Thanks for the review.

  3. "Epic" is a perfect description for this book. It took me a while to get into it, but it definitely blew me away. It's one of very few books I can truly call a modern classic.

  4. Peppermint PhD - Hope you enjoy it, it's well worth the time spent reading it.

    Beachreader - Stop putting it off! I promise you it's worth it :)

    Roof Beam Reader - I wasn't expecting it to be as epic as it was, it blew me away too. It's one I will read again in the future.

  5. Glad you enjoyed Middlesex as much as I did! Epic is the right word to describe it.

    Looking forward to Eugenide's next book.

  6. I've heard of this book before but really didn't know anything about it. I'll have to add this one to the list -- sounds like I have to be in the mood for it, though. Thanks!

  7. I've heard about this before but I didn't know much about it. You've made it sound really intriguing - any book that can be described as epic is good in my book! No pun in tended! :-)

  8. So glad you liked this! I loved its uniqueness and how unexpected the story was. Like you, I came into it with certain expectations about the story and those were not only met but exceeded and turned completely upside down :)

  9. Do you ever read books too quickly? I often do. This was a book that I rushed. Perhaps I will go back and give it a real read one of these days.

    Thank you for your review.

  10. A friend just lent this one to me! Glad to hear it was good, I hope to get to it soon! (And I haven't read Virgin Suicides so I may have to add that one to my list as well!)

  11. Playing Librarian - I'm looking forward to his next book too, he is such a good writer.

    Annette, Mel - Hope you do get around to reading it and that you enjoy it.

    Teacher/Learner - Yes, I wasn't expecting a three generational epic but I'm glad it was like that.

    Deb - I do read too fast sometimes, but luckily a busy week at work forced me to go slow with this one. I will reread it in the future as well, I'm sure.

    Lisa - Read it soon, you'll love it! :) And I'm in the minority preferring Virgin Suicides, but it's also a great book.

  12. I've had a copy of this on my shelf for a few months - so many books to read I wish I had two heads so I could get to more of them :-) Good to hear it's so great, I'll have to pick it up soon.

  13. I also loved the story of Cal's grandparents. I felt like it could stand alone as its own book. Like you, I thought there would be more of a focus on Cal as a man and how he and his family delt with it, but I think Euginides wanted to highlight the transformation of it all, the unraveling of an identity rather than the identity itself.