Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I recently had the week from Hell and wanted something cosy and reassuring to read. What could be better than Eligible? It’s been languishing on my TBR pile for a while and now was definitely the time to dust it off and get stuck in…

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.

This proved to be just what I needed – a smart read that plays with the reader’s knowledge of the original story and then delivers something sufficiently different to keep the pages turning. For instance, Elizabeth, aged thirty-eight, is in the middle of an affair with Jasper Wicks whom she has been helplessly in love with for years – while he keeps stringing her along. Set in Cincinnati, where the Bennets live in a rambling, unkempt mansion called Tudors, this is also a commentary on modern times. The strength of this story is the way Sittenfeld reinvents the classic characters we know and love from Austen’s incomparable romantic comedy and offers them up in different guises. Some are still recognisable and some are completely different – I had great fun working out who was going to fill which niche in the story.

It does take a while to get going as initially we are treated to chunks of detail about the backstory in omniscient viewpoint, which I found a tad jarring. Once we were in the story, the pace picks up and the story lifted off. However, there is a problem that poor Sittenfeld couldn’t crack – while Mr Bennet does have some deliciously sharp and humorous lines, overall the dialogue lacks the wit and charm of Austen’s original novel. I’ll give her a pass on that one – Austen was a genius and while Sittenfeld’s prose is solidly good, she isn’t in the same league. That said, I had a great deal of fun with this one and recommend it to anyone in need of an enjoyable romance – a thorough working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice (and that can mean you’ve watched the films a few times) is a distinct advantage.
8/10

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12 responses »

    • Yes – and you may argue I’ve been a little harsh, but this is one of my all-time favourite books she is messing about with here, so I was probably more stringent.

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