Sunday, February 05, 2006

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Possessing (nearly) three university degrees in English Literature, having people ask me for book recommendations comes with the territory. I don't mind, in fact, I love sharing some of my favourite books and have an image in my head of one copy of such a book being passed on and on, becoming dog-eared on almost every page and looking very well-loved.

Though it came out in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is my first recommendation for 2006. The story is told by Cal, a young man living in Berlin in the present day - but Cal lived as a girl until the age of fourteen. The secret to the one malfunctioning gene that caused Cal to be born a hermaphrodite is told in a sweeping saga of three generations of a Greek family who emigrated to Detroit in the early part of the twentieth century. Apart from a beautiful story, why did I love this book? A writer must have great skill to invite the reader to invest emotionally in his characters as well the ability to present sometimes horrific incidents with a precarious edge of comedy. And an editor must have a great amount of skill to ensure that a 500+ page book does not wane in the middle or become rushed at the end, which this novel did not.

I discovered this wonderful interview with Jeffrey Eugenides by the insightful Jonathan Safran Foer which addresses issues such as the postmodern aspect of the novel, the fatigue involved in writing such a large book, authorial influences, and what he wouldn't sacrifice for his writing.

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