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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

MARK LAWSON:
He's waited ten years since The Virgin Suicides. That could imply perfection or that he had trouble writing it. Which does it imply to you?

ALKARIM JIVANI:
It's a perfect, very accomplished book. I was astounded by the title. Middlesex is the name of the house they live in, but it's also supposed to suggest multi-gender. The reason I think it's a better book than The Virgin Suicides is because it's a book by a child of the Diaspora. What he has done is reconciled opposites: America and Asia Minor, male and female, classical and contemporary. Only a child of the Diaspora can do that, because we stand on the threshold of two rooms. It's incredibly rich, beautifully written and bristling with metaphors.

I thought the way it worked, which was impressive, is that he takes an American epic, which has been done quite a lot, about an American family, but because we're tracking one gene all the scenes, like a wedding and a high school dance, have a tension.

BONNIE GREER:
He's brilliant in weaving the Greek mythology and these things. My personal problem is that I'm really tired of these 530-page novels. I don't understand why people are writing books these big. It takes us to page 230 to get to the story, there is huge scaffolding on it seems that this generation of novelists - and this is a '90s novel - are writing 19th century realist books. This is something that Zola would have loved. There's a post-modern aspect to it, but it is a 19th century novel.

MARK KERMODE:
It's an interesting book about divided cities and sexes. It is a game of two halves. The first 250 pages are a real uphill struggle: it's intelligent and rather dull. Then finally he arrives at Middlesex and it finds its beat and style and we're back into the purity and charm of The Virgin Suicides. I think it's emotionally un-engaging until you get to the second half of the book. It may be that the story of the hermaphrodite may not make sense without that preamble.

MARK LAWSON:
I think you need the first half because you're tracking the gene and seeing how these small families have huge consequences.

ALKARIM JIVANI:
Without the first half none of the latter sections would make sense, because the latter section is how we carry our history with us.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.


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