In brief: It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but not as you know it. Darcy’s a neurosurgeon and the action takes place in Cincinnati.
The good: The twists on the original and updates for modern life.
The not-so-good: Possibly not a book for serious P&P purists.
Why I chose it: I love P&P and I enjoy Sittenfeld’s books.
Publisher: Borough Press (Harper Collins)
Setting: Cincinnati, New York and California
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
I feel like I’ve been waiting for Eligible for ages. Since I first heard about this book, I have been desperate to get my hands on it. So it was a trip to the shop after an early morning start to get my hands on it. But then I couldn’t decide if I wanted to read it. Pride and Prejudice is my most beloved Austen novel and I’ve made several attempts to try and get the same buzz with various sequels, retellings and reinventions. But I end up invariably disappointed. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Curtis Sittenfeld. Is she the person to bring this novel to the 21st century?
In a word: yes. Yes! YES!
Eligible is the modern version of Pride and Prejudice fans like me have been searching for. But if you’re an absolute purist, the changes and tweaks will probably disgust you and fascinate you in equal measures. Eligible isn’t slavishly faithful to the original plot, it plays around a bit with some of the characters and their timelines. For one of the characters (Jasper Wick), it took me a while to work out who he was based on. Others are instantly recognisable (Mrs Bennet, for instance, is just perfect. Faithful to the original and with an addiction to online shopping.) Another major difference is that the characters all have jobs. While I think Liz is perfect as a writer, others might not sit quite as comfortably. (For example, Jane is a yoga instructor and Mr Bingley is an emergency physician slash reality star).
Yes, reality star. Eligible comes with a huge dose of modern scenarios. How else would Mrs Bennet know that Chip Bingley is the former star of Bachelor-style program Eligible? CrossFit has a strong showing, as does reality TV, smartphones and hate sex. Yes folks, there is a bit of sex in Eligible. Again, some of it may not be for the purists but personally, I felt it went with the plot. It was a bit weird to imagine P&P characters getting it on, but after a while I didn’t find myself linking Eligible to the original. It separated itself into a book where I kind of knew a bit about the plot, but still ended up surprised. (The finale is definitely surprising and fits in with the sort of madcap adventures the Bennet girls find themselves on).
I loved the tone of this book – it’s light and funny. It doesn’t turn up its nose at the original Austen novel, but celebrates it in a jovial way that’s kind of poking fun at itself sometimes. Darcy’s secret love of Skyline Chilli doesn’t really seem to fit his haughty surgeon demeanour while Mary hides a secret from her family that definitely isn’t what you’d expect. There’s infestations, sheer teddies and TV cameras. It’s a total romp.
I thought it was great how Sittenfeld made Jane and Liz in their late thirties – proving women can be alluring at any age (take that Mrs Bennet)! I think it gave the pair the opportunity to shine even more against their younger sisters, who are immature and lazy. The prose is witty, showing that this book has been carefully and lovingly crafted. I didn’t want it to end.
Eligible is like the party that is so hyped up that you’re not sure it will be worth it. But when you get there, you find it’s everything you could have asked for and more.