I count this book as one of my top 3 all-time favourite books. I have been meaning to re-read it for ages, especially after The Marriage Plot came out a few years ago, and have finally got around to it. There is something so satisfying in re-reading a favourite book and remembering all the elements you loved so much to make it a favourite. And then there is the added pleasure of discovering parts of the book you missed or didn’t remember which was the case with my re-read of Middlesex.
Middlesex tells the multi-generational story of Greek immigrants coming to America. A story the has been told many times in many different forms. The difference with Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning journey is that the impetus for the story is genetics. In fact a particular recessive gene that through luck and circumstance has been passed on to our narrator, Cal Stephanides. It is the story of this gene and its discovery and the gene’s effect on Cal that makes this novel so superb.
The story begins with Cal’s grandparents; Lefty and Desdemona, their unusual relationship and their journey to America after having to flee Smyrna and the Turkish Army in 1922. They eventually settle in Detroit where Leftie gets a job working in the Henry Ford factory. (This seemed to be a bigger piece of the story the first time around but not as much this time.) The story then gets to Cal’s parents; Milton and Tessie, their courtship and the start of Cal’s family. Then we get to Cal and the discovery of the family gene that makes itself known in Cal’s fourteenth year.
What I loved both times reading Middlesex was the way Eugenides looks at nature vs nurture and how neither is a clear cut thing. I also loved both times the mix of coming-of-age story with family history, both social and genetic. What I didn’t remember but really noticed this time was the humour. Maybe I was so absorbed in the lives and the unravelling of Cal’s story the first time around but I really noticed how funny the book was this time. The humour is at times surreal, at times cheeky and flows through the narrative almost like banter between family members, which essentially is what it is, as Cal narrates the story switching from first person to third person as we move between the present and the past.
Middlesex still sits easily in my top 3 books of all-time. It is marvellous story of family and growing up. It is a Greek tragedy for the modern world told with love, compassion and comedy. If you haven’t read this yet it is a worthy addition for your To Be Read pile. If you have read it I highly recommend a second helping.
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Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (197mm x 130mm x mm)
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 20-Jun-2013
Country of Publication: United Kingdom