I must admit, I usually have to force myself to read literary novels these days. They're so fat, and I know it's such a big commitment, I'll have to devote a couple of weeks of reading time to a single volume -- will it be worth it? Actually, it usually is, and Middlesex certainly was.

I borrowed this from my friend Sandra, because it was one of Those Books I Know I Should Have Read. But it then sat beside the bed for months while I tried to work up enthusiasm to actually open the damn thing. I had to push myself through the first 50 pages or so, getting into the rhythm of the writing. But after that I was totally hooked, and I raced through the second half at top speed.

Middlesex feels like several shorter, almost (but not quite) self-contained books stitched together, and this is reflected in the structure, which is broken into four separate 'books'. The first two sections deal with the protagonist, Cal/Callie's, grandparents, who emigrate from Turkey to America in 1922, their life in Detroit, and then the story of Callie's own parents, Milt and Tessie. So far, so sprawling family saga (with surreal touches). But for me, the novel really took fire in the third quarter, when Cal/Callie him/herself arrived on the scene and began to tell his/her own story, which occupies the remainder of the book. It's great, meaty, vivid, and absorbing.

I got the feeling that the 'family' part of the story contains a fair amount of autobiographical material (Eugenides himself is Greek-American, from Detroit). I've previously read The Virgin Suicides and The Marriage Plot, the novels that come before and after this one, but Middlesex is the one -- it feels like the great book Eugenides was born to write. I'm actually glad I saved it till last: it's terrific.

(A word on the consumption of this novel. Lately I've been snatching reading time here and there -- a few minutes' guilty break from work, a quarter of an hour in bed before lights out, a tram journey, twenty minutes before the girls come home from school. But this weekend I found myself up early, in a quiet house, and I sat and read for two hours undisturbed. And then I was... blessed?... with a migraine, and in the convalescent phase in the late afternoon, was able to lie in bed and read for another hour or so, until I'd finished the book. It made me realise that it's been a long time since I read like that, in long luxurious wallows. Maybe if I could carve out more chunks of time like that, I'd read more Big Novels?

Food for thought...)

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