Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: April 19th 2016
Source: ARC from publisher (thank you!)
From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century. This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.
Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.
Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a witty and enjoyable, if long, retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Clocking in at 512 pages, Sittenfeld takes her time establishing the characters, the city of Cincinnati, and the society in which they live. This is a book for people who like to fall in love with a city and who, like Elizabeth Bennet herself, tend to hold onto first impressions of books and characters.
At first glance, Liz Bennet and her family seem like pretty despicable people. They’re old money Cincinnati folk, born with and continuing to live with silver spoons in their mouths. Jane and Liz actually live in New York, sharing a place in the Upper West Side. Jane is a yoga instructor, while Liz writes for a feminist women’s magazine. Meanwhile, the rest of the Bennets live in a wealthy part of Cincinnati, where they seemingly don’t work at all.
By aging up all of the characters, Sittenfeld shows that societal pressures to get married, have children and settle down haven’t changed that much since the early 1800s. Liz is 38. Jane is 40. The other Bennet sisters are anywhere from 27 to 35. And yeah, that pressure is very much in their face as Jane and Liz come home to help their family after their father suffers a heart attack. Re-inserting themselves into the old money society, Jane and Liz meet Chip Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy, doctors at the University of Cincinnati medical centre. And thus begins a tale that really shouldn’t feel so biting and familiar in 2016 (or 2013, when the story is set).
That’s the thing that Sittenfeld gets right: her dry and poignant observations about human beings seem made to go with Austen’s story. Even though there are some bold changes to the narrative to modernize the story (for one, Darcy and Liz’s meetings aren’t quite as formal in the early parts of the book as you would think) – I was struck by the fact that the very essence of the story – this story of modern manners, society, and trying to figure yourself out in the midst of all that – was still relateable today.
Part of that relatability is no doubt due to Sittenfeld’s talent for creating round, imperfect characters that begin unlikeable and then grow on you. I found Liz a know-it-all and definitely bit pathetic at the beginning of the narrative because she’s stuck in a really terrible relationship with a married man. And yet, as you get to know her and you realize what she has to offer, you start to understand why tick and foible. Similarly, I felt a bit ambivalent towards Jane given her seeming lack of direction in life, but as Sittenfeld unveiled more of her character, I understood that her choices in life were very deliberate.
There are certain choices Sittenfeld makes -such as splitting up the Wickham character – that I’m not convinced worked entirely. There’s a feeling that Sittenfeld is using diversity as a plot point instead of letting characters stand for themselves (the two diverse character of note, are indeed, kind of token, and played up because of the Bennets’ own prejudice). And yet, I can’t say that this wasn’t a really strong adaptation. I was just as frustrated by many of the characters as the original, but I also felt the same urgency for Darcy and Liz to get together as I did in the original and some of the subsequent, excellent adaptations (the 1995 BBC miniseries, the 2005 film, and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries webseries come to mind). I was cheering for Liz and Darcy by the end, and I think you will be, too.
I Want To Go To There: I’ve recently become quite interested in seeing Cincinnati – I’ve heard it’s both a quaint and cultural city and this book made me want to go even more.
Character Flipping: In the original Pride & Prejudice, there are a lot of really despicable, unlikeable people. Not so in this book. There are one or two awful people, but even the people Austen originally made into caricatures get a little more sympathy in Sittenfeld’s version – some are even likeable!
The Final Word:
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld hits the mark on a lot of my bookish needs. The first is, well, obviously, it’s a Pride & Prejudice retelling. That fact alone had me begging for it. The second is that it’s written by someone who is not afraid to make characters real, fallible and not always likeable. Sittenfeld’s frank prose and honesty about the realities of womanhood today, couched in Austen’s tale of love and wit really worked together. Read it if you’re a Janeite, or if you just enjoy a slightly ascerbic view of the world.
ELIGIBLE is out in bookstores now. Will you be reading it? Are you an Austenite/Janeite like I am? How do you feel about society books or books with very fallible characters? Let me know in the comments!