I am happy to have read some of the longer and more appreciative reviews at GoodReads because it reminded me of some of the parts I most enjoyed, which were nearer the beginning. I would say the novel has a few different moods going on, or maybe it's just that the mood grows darker.
Eugenides is roughly of my era of college life and although the East Coast setting and the upper class Wasp nature of Madeleine and her family aren't really anything I'm familiar with, I did find Mitchell a very recognizable character, with his unrequited love and his spiritual investigations. My group of college friends were all about Mother Teresa and Merton too, though as far as I know, none of them made it as far as India.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the way it captures a certain time of life--not college so much as that period after college ends. Especially if you're not launched into your first big job or graduate school. A person can feel quite adrift and for quite awhile. I thought the graduation scene which begins the book was very well observed. For the parents and other family members, it's a rite of passage, a success story. But for the actual graduates, it's a complicated time where you're wrapping up loose ends and trying to feel your way into the future--the ceremony is almost incidental. There are probably other novels about this period, if only because so many writers starting out are of this age and that's what they know about. But I haven't read them. And this is not an early work of Eugenides. It's about a period that he's returning to and reconsidering.
And, although I didn't study semiotics, I find it heartening that this is a novel about people who actually read books, and think about them, and discuss them with each other. Of course, that's part of undergrad life in the humanities. But it's refreshing to have them described as having an influence.
I really admired the depiction of Mitchell's spiritual quest, because it so deftly describes its pitfalls. I don't think we really know where he will end up, but I think that he has at least discovered that he is going to have to be his own guru.