Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Diamond Queen, by Andrew Marr

I read this book -- a biography not only of a monarch but of a monarchy -- over Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee weekend, and Mr. Marr taught me a great deal not only about Queen Elizabeth, but about the role of the British royalty in general, or at least the way in which the Windsors have carried it out. Although she has virtually no legal clout or authority, the Queen wields tremendous influence, much of it simply by virtue of reigning continuously through good times and bad for sixty years. In some regards, she is an individual personification of a country, or more accurately, of a commonwealth.
Like it or not, she is the symbol of the authority which drives the state servants and laws -- the elections, armies, judges and treaties which together make modern life possible. For sixty years she has appeared to open her Parliament, to remember her nation's war dead, to review her troops or to attend services of her Church. "Britain" cannot go to the Republic of Ireland to finally heal a political breach that goes back to the Irish struggle for independence in the 1920s -- but the Queen can. "Britain" cannot welcome a pope or a president. She can. She has great authority and no power. She is a brightly dressed and punctual paradox. She is the ruler who does not rule her subjects but who serves them.
Marr returns to Queen Elizabeth's grandfather, King George V, who traded the family name of Saxe-Coburg Gotha for Windsor in the years leading to WWI, driven by the country's growing anti-German sentiment. The courtier who suggested the name also gave the dynasty its most compelling 'mission statement.' The royals, although wealthy, are not members of the aristocracy; they are something quite separate, and unlike the nobles, they must represent Britons of all classes.
Lord Stamfordham, apart from choosing its name, gave the House of Windsor its founding principle when he wrote in the same year, "We must endeavour to induce the thinking working classes, socialist and others, to regard the Crown, not as a mere figurehead and an institution which, as they put it, 'don't count', but as a living power for good . . . affecting the interests and well-being of all classes." That was the job George set out to do, and which his son and granddaughter then took on. It is the most important sentence a British courtier has ever written, and remains the most influential.
This is a biography of Elizabeth II, but Marr reminds us that we cannot understand who she is or why if we don't know the history of her father's unexpected rise to the throne when her uncle abdicated. He gives us vivid stories of George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, both as King and Queen and as parents. In addition to her great courage during the blitz of London, the late Queen Mother sounds like a hoot, especially after a gin and Dubonnet or two (her favourite cocktail).  
She was a flirt with men and well into her nineties enjoyed the company of a male with a raffish twinkle in his eye. She liked stories about "naughty" friends and relatives and recommended the stories of Maupassant about love and romance. She possessed natural charisma, shrewd intelligence and could be very funny. The ballet choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton was a favourite dancing partner of the Queen Mother's at Sandringham when balls were held there. She would gesture to him when she wanted to dance. Once, as he went over to take her hand, the Queen herself interposed and suggested he dance with her. You cannot refuse your monarch. As they twirled round, passing the Queen Mother's table, she hissed at Ashton: "Social climber!"
As can be said of her daughter, the public often failed to perceive the Queen Mother's real character, as they saw her only during formal occasions or press photography sessions.
Occasionally steely to the point of cruelty, she was more interesting than her later public image of a little old lady who liked horses and gin-and-tonics and big pink hats.
The present Queen has likewise learned to keep her opinions largely to herself with an astonishing reserve, and she has maintained this restraint for an astounding 60 years.
With only one significant exception, her marriage to Prince Philip, she has done nothing against the grain of what was expected. She has uttered not a single shocking phrase in public. There are no reliable recorded incidents of her losing her temper, using bad language or refusing to carry out a duty expected of her. People close to her speak of her wry wit, her talent for mimicry and her very shrewd intelligence, helped by an extraordinary memory for people and events. Outside a tiny circle, none of this is seen. She has a lovely, lightbulb-on smile. But, as if to save electricity, it quickly snaps off. (It is more often merely that she is concentrating.) Her most often used and most effective tactic is silence. Politicians say she is a mistress of the icy silence, the "you may go now" silence, the "I disagree" silence and the plain "you make the running" silence. Otherwise, she understates by instinct.
Marr stresses the difference between the Queen's influence and her actual power. In truth, she makes few decisions, and her overseas visits are determined for her. She is at one and the same time the ruler and the servant of the people. The elected government calls the shots. 
The Queen has no more choice about where she goes than they do. If  "her" government says she should go to Bulgaria or Tanzania, that's where she heads. Because, underneath the gilded icing of 24-gun salutes, exchanged Grand Crosses, dancing displays and elaborately exchanged compliments, this is a cold-hearted, contemporary and wholly serious business.
What is the Queen's impact as a diplomat? Incalculable.
So can it really matter that an eighty-four-year-old lady with her eighty-nine-year-old husband arrives by aircraft and does a lot of walking, nodding, smiling and talking? In this day and age? Well, it seems to. The UAE and Oman are monarchies themselves, and in Oman's case an absolute monarchy. In this modern version of the "great game", nations must play the cards they have; and Britain can play the Queen. Few of her rivals have a long-serving, internationally famous monarch in whose company sheikhs seem comfortable, talking horseflesh and architecture. In the case of the UAE, the Queen knew its founder, Sheikh Zayed, who died in November 2009. Her visit to him in 1979 is still remembered locally, not least because each schoolchild's history book has a picture of it. Three decades on, her arrival had been preceded by the visit of the Indian president. Given how many Indians work in the Gulf, and how closely the UAE follows Indian affairs, this might have been reckoned a more important meeting. The Queen's visit was a vastly bigger event, with large crowds and signs across Abu Dhabi, and much more local media coverage.
Really, though, she is operating much more like a door-opener, or perhaps a human assault vessel. She goes first, ushered straight to the centres of power wherever she is, and behind her, in an eager V-formation, come the ministers, civil servants, the military and the salesmen.
Queen Elizabeth makes a number of official appearances that makes me exhausted simply reading it. Not only does she keep the grueling schedule, she is unflaggingly and correctly interested in each one. Her sense of duty clearly outweighs her own personal needs or wishes.
One of her quiet successes has been that the more journalists observe her at work, the more they admire her phlegm and grit. Ann Leslie, a woman who rarely takes posh prisoners, says she gapes at the Queen's readiness to affect an interest in aero engines and foreign leaders when she would much rather be talking about horses or simply resting. On one sweltering day in Bangkok, she says, "I was watching the jet engine parts makers and they were glowing because they got the impression somehow that, although she was very dignified, and she's not going to gush, because gush is not her default mode, that she really did care about them and their engine parts. And I thought, this woman is bloody brilliant." That experience, multiplied, is the real explanation as to why the Queen has weathered the prejudices of newspaper proprietors and the storms of newspaper wars so successfully.
In response to the voices which perpetually question whether the cost of maintaining the British monarchy is worthwhile, Marr dedicates a chapter to the royal finances. The Crown technically owns vast and valuable tracts of land, but the revenues do not go directly into the Queen's bank account -- they go to the government, which in turns passes the Queen what she requires for the royal expenses. One can still argue that the Crown has no business holding so much land, but in fact it does, and until that changes, the land supports the Crown, and the excess goes to the public treasury. 
Once the revenues were simply collected by the Crown, but in 1760 George III agreed to hand them over to his government, in return for a "Civil List" payment from Parliament for his expenses. It was always wrong to say simply that the taxpayer funded the monarchy; the Crown Estate mostly subsidized the state. From 2000 to 2010 it paid £1.9 billion into the Treasury.
When averaged out, each Briton contributes to the upkeep of the monarchy an annual sum which equals the cost of two cigarettes.

Marr notes that the Queen, ever discreet and confidential, has never shared her opinions of any of her prime ministers, each of whom has a weekly audience with her. They, however, have unfailingly expressed their appreciation for her experience and wisdom. One of her staff voiced the value of her steadiness and continuity.
"She's seen it all before -- the ups and downs, the wars, the recessions, the recoveries, the good times, the bad times -- and she's seen the way different governments respond to these events . . . and she gives sound advice, I'm sure."
The Queen's impartiality also comes as a gift to the prime minister who cannot find it from his colleagues, even those of his own party. Her Majesty frequently plays the role of confidante as well as advisor.
The highest elected office is a lonely place. An experienced, shrewd and above all reliably discreet confidante is one of the advantages of constitutional monarchy, when it works, a blessing that other parliamentary systems rarely offer...
There is a crucial point here about the relationship between a constitutional monarch and her prime ministers. From time to time, the monarchy needs cover and support from the government of the day, just as the government of the day needs the authority of the Crown. To a large extent, they hang together. In Britain, their authorities are rarely inseparable. British monarchy is weakened by weak British governments and is given confidence by successful ones. When each week the Queen greets her prime minister, she has a vested interest in that individual doing well. Labour or Tory, it doesn't matter.
This book changed my perspective on the Diana phenomenon. Having got a better understanding of the Windsors' fierce protection of what little private life they have, I now see how barbarously intrusive the press became in stalking Diana, and how horrible the betrayal when she revealed private details in public. Marr points out that this sort of paparazzi onslaught was familiar to film stars, but the royal family had not confronted it before. This generation of photographers were basically mercenaries -- freelancers who would sell their photos to the highest bidder, nearly always for stratospheric sums, and who answered to no authority and held to no ethical standard. And yet, Diana naively believed she could manage them on her own, wielding them to her own advantage which often included portraying the monarchy as an obsolete, out-of-touch, fusty institution.
The Queen knew the monarchy had to both stand for tradition and also evolve, but in a steady and controlled way. In Diana's case, manipulating what used to be called Fleet Street was like a child in a pedalo trying to land a shark.
Marr likewise defends the Queen's decision to stay in Balmoral with her grandsons in the immediate aftermath of Diana's death. She was comforting William and Harry in a safe place, away from the relentless media, which they would all have to face soon enough. Why did that seem like a bad decision at the time? Evidently people wanted her to make a formal statement, or to grieve with the young princes in a more public way. The Diana years seem to have convinced Britons that the royal family should conduct its life like a reality television show.

Marr believes that William and Kate are starting their marriage on much more solid footing than his parents had, and it's hard to disagree. I would like to think that royal-watchers also learned from the tragedy of Diana's marriage and death and will allow the younger couple more privacy and respect.
These were people at ease in their skins, the same age, who had met at what they would call 'Uni' and who had lived together -- in what used to be called Sin but is now known as North Wales. They had split up and made up. At twenty-nine, Kate Middleton was old for a royal bride -- nearly a decade older than Diana had been -- and she would face the inevitable demands to produce an heir quickly. But that extra experience of life is a golden treasure, and she seems already to have the toughness, savoir-vivre and staying power that Diana Spencer had struggled to find.
Will Prince Charles take the throne, and if so, what type of monarchy will it be then? Although the Queen either cannot or will not express her personal opinions on public matters, Charles certainly has, especially when they concern the environment and architecture. The constitution is vague in its definition of the role and limitations of the monarch, which begs the question: Would Charles reject the throne because he agrees that the King must remain neutral? Or would he become a vocal, opinionated ruler?

It astonishes me that the Queen is still working so devotedly at age 85. As Marr points out, if she were confronted with the Elizabeth II's schedule, Queen Victoria would have reached for the smelling salts. When Her Majesty does leave the throne, I will grieve and more so for having read this book. I had a vague admiration for her before but a deep and profound one now. The woman is a marvel.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

Well, if this novel isn't just the frog's eyebrows!  Just after I'd finished it, I noticed that The Independent voted Rules of Civility one of the '50 Best Summer Reads'.  Every day is a summer day in Kuala Lumpur, but point taken. This book has all the style of a silk summer dress, all the effervescence of a glass of Chandon & Moet, and a cast of plucky people.

New York City, 1938. It's the Jazz Age. Our guide and narrator is Katie Kontent (accent on the last syllable, thank you), a feisty young woman living in a boarding house and working in a secretarial pool at a law firm. Also staying at the same boarding house is Evelyn, equally brash but from the mid-west. They meet when Evey spills a plate of pasta with sauce into Katie's lap. The landlady recommends chablis to remove the tomato sauce stains, and the two young women disappear into the bathroom with the bottle for a sodden confabulation. A native New Yorker, Katie sums up the allure of the Girl from Illinois:
In New York it becomes so easy to assume that the city's most alluring women have flown in from Paris or Milan. But they're just a minority. A much larger covey hails from the stalwart states that begin with the letter I -- like Iowa and Indiana and Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primitive blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs.
Every morning in early spring one of them skips off her porch with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane ready to flag down the first Greyhound headed to Manhattan -- this city where all things beautiful are welcomed and measured and, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size. One of the great advantages that the midwestern girls had was that you couldn't tell them apart. You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that's what accents and manners are there for. But to the native New Yorker, the midwestern girls all looked and sounded the same.
Or maybe their differences (readily apparent in Des Moines) were just dwarfed by the scale of our socioeconomic strata -- that thousand-layered glacial formation that spans from an ash can on the Bowery to a penthouse in paradise. Either way, to us they all looked like hayseeds: unblemished, wide-eyed, and God-fearing, if not exactly free of sin.
Evey and Katie go to a jazz club on New Year's eve with enough pocket money to cover one gin each per hour. Their pacing is off, though, so by 11:00, they're short on cash and feeling their oats. Enter Tinker Gray, a handsomely-dressed young gentleman of means. Tinker is not entirely what he first appears to be. Some reviewers have likened Rules of Civility to The Great Gatsby, but the similarities are superficial. Tinker Gray may have constructed an affluent facade (with George Washington's "Rules of Civility" as his primer), but he is not Jay Gatsby. He is far more complex.

And Towles gives us no woman as vacuous and flighty as Daisy Buchanan. Evey frequently comments that she's willing to be under anything as long as it isn't someone's thumb. Katie is quite capable of supporting herself, if not in a grand manner then at least well enough to guarantee her independence. When the time comes to make her next career move, she wrangles an offer from an august elderly editor by claiming to have been looking for work with his arch-rival. With his blessing, she steps another rung up the ladder to a brash new magazine venture.
On the morning of Friday, July first, I had a low-paying job at a waning publisher and a dwindling circle of semi-acquaintances. On Friday, July eighth, I had one foot in the door of Conde Nast and the other in the door of the Knickerbocker Club -- the professional and social circles that would define the next thirty years of my life. That's how quickly New York City comes about -- like a weathervane -- or the head of a cobra.  
The publisher of this sharp new lifestyle magazine is Mason Tate. He hires two women, Katie and Alley, for the single position as his assistant, telling them both that he'll keep the one which proves herself more valuable. Instead of angling at each other's throats, the two women make a pact to become equally and mutually indispensable, and it succeeds brilliantly.
In most offices, the loosely buttoned blouse could take the ambitious girl from reasonably proficient to utterly indispensable in the turn of a calendar year, but not in Mason Tate's. From the first, he made it clear that his affinities lay in another hemisphere. So we could save the fluttering of our eyelashes for the boys at the ballpark. He barely even looks up from his papers as he rattles off Alley's instructions with aristocratic remove. "Cancel my meeting with the mayor on Tuesday. Tell him I've been called to Alaska. Get me all the front covers of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Time for the last two years. If you can't find them downstairs, take a pair of scissors to the public library. My sister's birthday is August first. Get her something timid from Bendel's. She says she's a five; assume she's a six."
He pushes a pile of blue-lined copy in my direction. "Kontent: Tell Mr. Morgan that he's on the right track, but he's a hundred sentences short and a thousand words too long. Tell Mr. Cabot yes, yes and no. Tell Mr. Spindler he's missed the point entirely. We still don't have a strong enough cover story for the first issue. Inform the lot of them that Saturday's been canceled. For lunch I'll take ham on seeded rye with Muenster and relish from the Greeks on Fifty-third."
In suitable unison: Yes Sir.
Her friendship with Tinker Gray brings Katie into contact with New York's upper crust, and here too Towles gives us nicely fleshed-out characters, not cliched nor predictable. Wallace Walcott can have his pick of the debutantes, but he'd rather take Katie out to the club and teach her to shoot. Unlike the debutantes, Katie doesn't seem enthralled by his wealth.
Wallace Wolcott had to be in the sights of every young socialite without a ring on her finger. Most of the able-bodied girls in town would know his net worth and the names of his sisters. The industrious ones knew the names of his hunting dogs too.
In the end, whether they have wealth or not, these characters prove to have substance, pluck and integrity, and Amor Towles presents them with panache. I don't know why The Independent chose this as a summer read -- it's no better suited to a hammock or beach chair than, say, a sofa in front of a roaring fire -- but it certainly earns its spot on any recommended books list. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

I've just suffered an acrimonious breakup with an author whose two earlier novels -- The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex -- I loved and respected. Now I'm tempted to ask for financial compensation for the hours I spent reading his latest, which I began with bright hopes and which I read to the end with dogged perseverance. Is this a fiasco of a book? Not entirely, but it was so disappointing in comparison to the first two that it felt like a personal affront.

About 2/3 of the way through this novel, I glanced back at its title, The Marriage Plot.  I felt a sense of longing, because I'm fond of plots. And I couldn't seem to identify one in this story. There are three primary characters, all 1983 graduates of Brown University. Madeleine Hanna is the daughter of a retired college president and his wife -- lovely and affluent people, liberal and generous. Madeleine has graduated with a degree in English literature and is unsure what to do next. Leonard Bankhead is from Oregon, the son of a cultured father and boozy mother, and who suffers from manic depression. Leonard would have graduated with a degree in biology if he hadn't suffered a depressive breakdown during the spring semester of his senior year after a breakup with Madeleine (during which he threw a volume of Roland Barthes at her). He has an internship lined up in Provincetown, but after that, he is unsure what to do next. Mitchell Grammaticus has graduated with a degree in Religion and with high praise from his advisor which includes referrals to the best graduate programmes in the country, and an unrequited crush on Madeleine Hanna. He plans a trip to India because, yes, he's unsure what else to do next.

These are three highly intelligent people leaving one of America's finest universities and suffering a not uncommon transition for those without definite plans. It's a rude awakening to realise that the general population is not as clever as the student body at an Ivy League college. But where is the plot? They were floundering at the beginning of the book, and they were floundering no less at its end. I expressed my despair with the novel to a friend and fellow Eugenides fan who had refused to read the book after reading some reviews and interviews. Her reply: "It sounded smug and self-important, the plot more suited to diary entries and agonized chats with friends than a novel..." If his biographical data didn't insist otherwise, I'd have guessed that Eugenides wrote this novel in the year following his own graduation (yes, from Brown in 1983) and that publishers rejected it until he had gained acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for his later and better novels. This is by far a less mature book. That's not to say it's without skillful characterisation. Madeleine is beautiful, wealthy and self-indulgent, and when she gets to Brown, she perfects her ability to mould her sexual partners into what she needs them to be.
She hadn’t been able to allow herself to enjoy Dabney or even to exploit him a little, but had had to go and be a total girl about it and convince herself that she was in love with him. Madeleine required emotion, apparently. She disapproved of the idea of meaningless, extremely satisfying sex. And so she began to tell herself that Dabney’s acting was “restrained” or “economical.” She appreciated that Dabney was “secure about himself” and “didn’t need to prove anything” and wasn’t a “showoff.” Instead of worrying that he was dull, Madeleine decided he was gentle. Instead of thinking he was poorly read, she called him intuitive.
Then she meets Leonard, who is far from the typical east-coast Ivy League man.
He shaved irregularly. His Skoal had a menthol scent, cleaner, more pleasant than Madeleine expected. Whenever she looked up to find Leonard staring at her with his St. Bernard’s eyes (the eyes of a drooler, maybe, but also of a loyal brute who could dig you out of an avalanche), Madeleine couldn’t help staring back a significant moment longer.
Madeleine develops a bumpy and platonic friendship with Mitchell, who goes off to Europe and India after graduation in search of mystical experiences, or any other sort of guidance as to what he might want to do next. He talks with a priest about converting to Catholicism. A born-again Christian in Athens tries to convince him that finding Christ and subsequently speaking in tongues is the truer path. He tries (and fails) to commune with God in Mother Theresa's shelter for the dying, where Mitchell can barely bring himself to touch the patients. Mitchell Grammaticus is totally unmoored, and in very shallow water.
He remembered a line from Meister Eckhart: “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”
Mitchell wondered if he was supposed to erase himself, or his past, or other people, or what. He was ready to begin erasing immediately, as soon as he knew what to rub out...
At a long table directly beneath the mural, a large group was gathered. The men in this group kept their hair short. The women favored long skirts, bib-collared blouses, and sandals with socks. They were sitting up straight, their napkins in their laps, conversing in low, serious tones. These were the other volunteers for Mother Teresa. What if you had faith and performed good works, what if you died and went to heaven, and what if all the people you met there were people you didn't like?
Meanwhile, Madeleine visits Leonard in the hospital, where he has been for weeks as doctors try to get his medications sorted. Leonard has a steady stream of visitors, many of whom try to jolly him out of his depression. Madeleine looks to them for hints on the best way to deal with the mentally ill. 
Maybe Henry was handling this the right way. She was eager for any pointers. But levity was beyond her. She felt painfully awkward and tongue-tied. Madeleine had never been close to anyone with a verifiable mental illness. She instinctively avoided unstable people. As uncharitable as this attitude was, it was part and parcel of being a Hanna, of being a positive, privileged, sheltered, exemplary person. If there was one thing Madeleine Hanna was not, it was mentally unstable.
Madeleine sets her mind to saving Leonard, and she packs him and his things into her new Saab convertible (a graduation gift from her parents) and drives them to the lab in Provincetown where Leonard has his internship. During the following year, she sees Leonard suffer the side-effects of the Lithium that keeps him on a level plane, and she then experiences the mania and crash following his self-directed adjustments to the dosage. Still, for reasons that Eugenides suggests are purely sexual, she agrees to marry Leonard.

Her parents gently encourage Madeleine to consider the implications of marrying a manic-depressive. They don't forbid it, and they are neither cruel nor closed-minded. Madeleine, however, is outraged and more determined than ever to marry Leonard.. The newlyweds go off to Paris and Monaco on their honeymoon (which Alton, Madeleine's father, paid for). Leonard has another manic episode and disappears from a casino. Madeleine of course phones her parents. Alton rings up an acquaintance in the US Embassy, and Madeleine's mother, Phyllida, hops onto a plane to come and assist her daughter. When they finally get Leonard into and then out of the psychiatric hospital in Europe, he returns to Madeleine's parents' home to recuperate. They sleep in her childhood room, which her mother had papered with custom-made Madeline wallpaper years before. It's yellowed and peeling in spots, but there is Madeline, Nurse Clavell and the lion to whom Madeline says "pooh pooh!" This is a young woman who seems unlikely to ever grow up.

Madeleine applies to graduate programmes in English literature, having decided that she wants to be a Victorianist. She chooses Columbia, and Leonard at first agrees to live in New York. When it comes time to search for an apartment, however, he finds that the city gives him anxiety attacks. Madeleine encourages him to come look at the 'perfect' place, but he balks, partly because it's expensive. She tells him not to fuss about that, since she'll (in other words Alton will) be paying for it.  After signing the lease (Leonard refuses to co-sign), she begs him to come with her to a party at a friend's apartment, just for a few minutes. Not surprisingly, he wants nothing to do with a party but allows her to drag him there, and he promptly vanishes into the bedroom.

As they're leaving, she asks him the most stupid question imaginable: Had he enjoyed the party? 
Madeleine tried to take in what Leonard was saying. She felt warm from the bourbon and hot from the city. Now that they were downstairs, back on Broadway, she was disappointed to be heading home. For over a year she'd been taking care of Leonard, hoping for him to get better, and now he was worse than ever. Having just come from a party where everyone else seemed happy and healthy, she found the situation grossly unfair.
Maybe I knew too many Madeleines from my years of study at Wellesley, or maybe I simply have no tolerance for pampered and privileged princesses who make ill-advised and self-indulgent decisions, and then expect everyone else to clean up their messes for them.

Evidently Leonard reached the same conclusion at the same moment. He describes his discovery in terms of the yeast cells he'd been studying in the Provincetown lab and, not surprisingly, Madeleine isn't interested in discussing yeast cells.
Suddenly Leonard's face took on a strange expression, as if he was darkly amused. "If you and I were yeast cells, you know what we'd do?
"I don't want to hear about yeast!" Madeleine said. "I'm sick of yeast."
 "Given the choice, a yeast cell's ideal state is to be diploid. But if it's in an environment with a lack of nutrients, you know what happens?"
"I don't care!"
"The diploids break into haploids again. Solitary little haploids. Because, in a crisis, it's easier to survive as a single cell."
Moments later, as he'd read that Muslim men do, he declares "I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee!" and vanishes into a subway station.

Madeleine returns to the apartment where they'd attended the party only minutes before, and she finds Mitchell, just returned from India. Of course Madeleine phones her parents for help.
He and Kelly took Madeleine into the bedroom and closed the door. While the party swirled outside, Madeleine told them what had happened. Later on, after Madeleine had calmed down a little, she called her parents. Together they decided that the best thing to do, for the moment, was for Madeleine to take a car service back to Prettybrook. Since she didn't want to be alone, Mitchell had volunteered to ride with her.
Shortly thereafter comes the end of The Marriage Plot. Leonard has returned in his haploid state to a remote cabin in Oregon. Mitchell has neither found God nor a graduate program, and Madeleine is back in her childhood bedroom with Madeline and Nurse Clavell.

Call me old-fashioned, but one of the requisite qualities of a novel is that its characters must undergo some sort of change from the beginning to the end. They must grow, or learn, or die. I don't need to like them or agree with their choices, but they can't just flail about spouting Brown course material for several hundred pages. Sorry, Mr. Eugenides, you get a failing mark from me on this one.