20 June 2013

Book Club: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Eugenides' second novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, is one of my all-time favourite novels. He's more well-known for his debut, The Virgin Suicides, but his sophomore book is, in my opinion, infinitely better and really, honestly spectacular (and now I really want to read it again!) So, when I saw The Marriage Plot in my local Waterstones with Eugenides' name on the cover, I snapped it up. It was languishing on my shelves for a few months but after finishing all my essays I took advantage of the recent sunshine to lie in the garden, read and relax.

The Marriage Plot centres on three almost-graduates from Brown University in the 1980s. There's Madeleine, an English student, who realises that life after graduation may not be as easy as she first thought; Mitchell, a religious studies student who has been hopelessly in love with Madeleine since their first meeting and Leonard, a Biology student, who Madeleine has fallen for but who has a very different background to her and is hiding a secret. Post-graduation, Madeleine and Leonard move in together, but things aren't as easy as they hoped, while Mitchell travels around the world to escape his feelings for Madeleine. 

The book is essentially about love, both requited and unrequited, but it's also about growing up and adapting to how things really are instead of how you thought they would be.
For me, the book really captures the feeling of leaving university and being thrown into the big wide world and then having your dreams/ideals slowly be crushed and brought back to reality (this is gloomy, huh?) In particular, Madeleine applies for a few jobs and is quietly confident, before being rejected from them all and left  doubting herself, which is definitely something I can relate to right now! Similarly, Mitchell begins to question religion and the world around him, travelling to India to help others and help himself figure things out. 

I did think that the book could have been longer, especially as the big climactic events towards the end were covered in around 100 pages and I think they may have benefited from being given more room to develop. I'm also really greedy because I just want more and more of Eugenides' writing; he is one of the best authors I've come across and I love how beautifully he writes.
I was also worried at the start because there seemed to be a bit of a 'friend-zoning' vibe coming from Mitchell, but Eugenides has Madeleine challenge this which I thought was great.

I'd definitely recommend The Marriage Plot, especially if you've just left uni and are a bit scared about things to come; I found it so easy to relate to all the characters in some way. It's also quite funny, with Eugenides deftly creating background characters of the kind we all come across at university.
I would still prefer Middlesex over The Marriage Plot but I think this is a really great book and probably easier to contend with, with a 'lighter' subject matter in some instances than Middlesex.

Do you like the sound of The Marriage Plot? Have you read any of Jeffrey Eugenides' books before? Can you recommend me any new reading material?

10 June 2013

The Red Lippy Project: Raising Awareness of Cervical Screening

I bet you didn't expect me to return after my little absence to talk about your cervix, but here I am! This week, 9-15th June, is Cervical Screening Awareness Week and I want to contribute to the Red Lippy Project's attempts to shatter the taboo around smear tests.

If you're over 25 in the UK, you'll be invited for a free cervical screening every three years. It used to be over 20s who were eligible, but the law changed in the last 10 years due to the small numbers of cervical cancers recorded in the under 25s and the potential worry abnormal results could cause to this age group, whose bodies are still changing. Now, from the ages of 25-49, screenings will be offered every 3 years, with tests every 5 years for those 50 and older.
Estimates say that cervical screens save around 5000 lives each year, but 20% of those eligible for a smear test don't attend them, with 25-29 year olds being the worst offenders. This is due to fear and misinformation, as the secretive nature of cervical cancer means people are often uncomfortable discussing it.

This is something I can definitely relate to. I was eligible for my first screening before the change in legislation so, at 20, off I trundled to the GP's surgery for my smear test. I was terrified. I sort of shyly approached my mum, who was reassuring, but I was too scared to ask any really specific questions. I went to my appointment full of nerves and wearing jeans, which I was later to realise was a rookie error. And... it was fine. I've heard the horror stories, as I'm sure you have too, but in all honesty there were no issues. Yeah, it was a bit awkward having a stranger poke and prod at me down there, but it wasn't painful at all and lasted less than five minutes. For me, the worst bit was trying to undress with one hand clutching a sheet around my waist. A word of advice; when you go for your test, you may want to wear a skirt/dress to avoid being naked from the waist down aside from your socks, as happened to me.

Anyway, enough of the oversharing (and sorry if I've given any of you nightmares) The point of all this is, cervical cancer and cervical screening is criminally under-discussed. There are adverts for erectile dysfunction services on TV all the time, but when it comes to something that can be a matter of life and death it's shied away from because of the anatomy involved. Some awareness was raised with the death of Jade Goody, but that has started to slip from public consciousness now, so more must be done to bring cervical cancer back into the public domain.
Caroline Muhlich, founder of the Red Lippy Project wanted to create a visual platform to allow open discussion of cervical cancer and underline the importance of taking control of your health. The Project encourages women to wear red lipstick for a week as a way of raising funds for the charity, as well as aiming to break down the stigma surrounding cervical cancer by encouraging discussion and sharing information between friends, family members and everyone with a cervix; it really could help save a life.

So, please, pop on your best red lipstick, talk to someone about cervical cancer and don't be ashamed about something which could help save your life or the life of someone you love.

Usually I ask you about your experiences but I don't think you'll really want to talk about your cervixes with me; I totally understand! So instead, I'll ask about your favourite red lipsticks. (though if you have a story or opinion on cervical screening, please feel free to share.)

You can donate to The Eve Appeal and help fund their research here.