Audiobook Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Picador
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Kristoffer Tabori
First line: I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.”

Although the story of Middlesex starts in the Greco-Turkish city of Smyrna, it fits the definition of the Great American Novel. Hands-down, the strength of this book is the narrator Cal Stephanides, born Calliope, an intersexed person born with a genetic deficiency that causes him to appear female until puberty hits and none of the normal female changes appear.

Cal starts the story with the origin of the gene that is handed down through his grandparents, and the way the stars aligned to bring about his conception. This book is simply historical fiction at its absolute finest. I loved this tale from beginning to end – from the story of Lefty and Desdemona in Smyrna and how the Turkish invasion of the city allowed them to hide their forbidden romance; to the courtship of Cal’s parents Tessie and Milt, their romance evolving from foreplay by clarinet. Eugenides has created a fully-fleshed cast of characters and told their story in true family saga style.

Cal himself is our narrator, and it is poignant to hear him tell of his initial fears that something was wrong with Callie, the young girl he believed himself to be, from the attraction he felt for his female friends and his lack of breast development and menstruation and his failed attempts at romance with boys. As a grown man, Cal’s unique make-up hinders his attempts at romance and relationships, and the working out of his relationship with Julie Kikuchi as an adult is beautiful.

The audiobook is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, and I can’t imagine another voice that could perfectly capture Cal and Callie, Desdemona and Lefty, Chapter Eleven and Milt and Tessie. This is, hands down, one of the best audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

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27 Responses to Audiobook Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads
    says:

    I listened to this book a number of years ago now, and totally agree with you about the narrator. It is difficult to imagine a narrator who could do a better job of this book.

    My only issue was that it was back in the days of cassettes when I listened to it, and the last tape broke and so I had to go and sit in the library to read the last twenty pages.

    Loved the book, loved the audiobook!
    .-= Marg´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesday: War and Peace by Tolstoy =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Marg – that would be frustrating! I once forgot to rip one disc of a 30-something disc audiobook and had to wait on the hold list at the library to check it out again. LOL

  2. Wow! That sounds like an amazing story – I had no idea that’s what that book is about!

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    That is a huge statement from someone like you, who has been a billion audio books! I’m going to see if my library has it…
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Writing an Audio book review =-.

  4. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    Yes! It is on its way!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Writing an Audio book review =-.

  5. Trisha
    Twitter: Trish422
    says:

    I am so glad you loved it. I really enjoyed reading this way back when – aka before blogging – and I remember initially reading some negative reviews. I found the story tragically beautiful and artfully told.
    .-= Trisha´s last blog ..Sunday Salon: The Awards Pages =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Trisha – “tragically beautiful” is a perfect description. 🙂

  6. Wow, one of the best ever? An audio re-read may be in order!
    .-= Jen – Devourer of Books´s last blog ..The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Audiobook Review =-.

  7. Lisa B says:

    Wow – I’ve heard SO mand good things about this book – but also had NO clue that’s what it’s about. Very interesting! I’m adding it to my LONG list of audiobooks to listen to!
    .-= Lisa B´s last blog ..Why Ammanda Braun Is AWESOME! =-.

  8. Anna says:

    I heard of this book but didn’t really know much about it before your review. I’m thinking I might give it a try at some point. Thanks for the recommendation!
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..And the Winner of The Last Leaf Is… =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Anna – I have had it on my to-read list forever – glad I finally found time for it!

  9. Kim
    Twitter: BookstoreK
    says:

    Read this book years ago, it is one of my favorites. There are so many images that have stuck with me, the swimming scenes, the car scenes, the deterioration of Detroit. Listening to it on audiotape is intriguing. It’s been long enough that I could re-encounter the book and hearing it sounds like a great idea.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Michael Cunningham Writes about Translation =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kim – yes – the car – Jimmy Zismo and Lefty! so many great storylines and wonderful pieces of American history.

  10. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12
    says:

    I loved this audiobook. I had no idea what to expect, but people kept recommending it to me. It’s an odd title, but the book was so beautiful. I loved the characters, the humor, everything!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: Zurich =-.

  11. Just Mom says:

    I enjoyed this one too. I thought at the time it would stay with me but now it is hard to remember much about it except that I liked it – growing old is a terrible thing!
    .-= Just Mom´s last blog ..At Risk By Patricia Cornwell =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Just Mom – I experience that all the time – but that means you can do a re-read and it will be like a new book!

  12. Kathleen says:

    I’ve had this on my shelf to read for what seems like forever. I definitely have to read it in print and not via audiobook. I just can’t keep my mind from wandering when I have tried to listen to audiobooks in the past.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathleen – I know that people who read it in print love it that way, too. 🙂

  13. amy s. says:

    I’ve had this sitting around to read for quite some time. I recently moved it to one of my bedside tables thinking it might motivate me. the first part in Greece is tough to get through. I know it’s supposed to be great book. thanks for your great review.
    .-= amy s.´s last blog ..Choice Quote: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Amy – the first part definitely is a little more slow-moving, but stick with it – it’s so worth it.

  14. Ash says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this book so much! I’m reading it in July for a reading group and because Michael from Books on the Nightstand is reading it for his summer read. I can’t wait to start it, it sounds like an amazing book.
    .-= Ash´s last blog ..Reading Reviews =-.