Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Series: The Austen Project #4 (4/?)
Published by Random House on April 19, 2016
Genres: [Adult] Contemporary, Retelling
3.5 Stars, Completed May 20, 2016
– SPOILER free –
My all time favorite classic (well tied with East of Eden) is Pride and Prejudice. I’ve rewatched the 2005 Keira Knightley film adaptation at least over a hundred times (no exaggeration-I’ve made my father, friends, and even acquaintances watch it with me). Don’t worry, I also adore the 1995 Jennifer Ehle BBC series (because, oh my, Colin Firth and his soaked shirt). And I’ve read all but one of Jane Austen’s work (I’ve can’t get through Emma for some reason). It may be obvious but I am one of Austen’s many superfans. Needless to say, I had extremely high expectations for this modern retelling and, thankfully, Eligible did an incredible job with satisfying those hopes (for the most part).
Eligible begins with Chip Bingley, Harvard graduate and practicing physician, as the talk of the town in the city of Cincinnati after folks learn that Chip will soon join the staff at Christ Hospital. He was the most recent bachelor on the reality TV show, “Eligible” (very similar to The Bachelor), but ended up choosing neither of the last two remaining women, meaning in Mrs. Bennet’s book he’s available for one of her girls. Also moving to Cincy for work is Chip’s best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Stanford graduate and a neurosurgeon positioned at the stroke center. Jane Bennet is a sweet yoga instructor about to reach forty, and her younger sister, Liz Bennet, is a writer for the prominent feminist magazine, Mascara. Like Pride and Prejudice, Liz and Darcy find themselves involved in an unexpected romance despite their unfavorable first impressions. To find happiness together Darcy must move past his pride and Liz her prejudice.
The events in Eligible stay true to Pride and Prejudice but still deviate enough to captivate long-time Austen fans without offending or boring them. The cast was phenomenal in recreating modern versions of the beloved Austen characters. The Bennet family is appropriately annoying and dysfunctional; Darcy is ever so handsome and charming and will likely cause all the readers swoon; and other supporting characters (Bingley, Charlotte, etc) didn’t differ far from the original cast from the British Regency.
Yet, one of my favorite heroines of all time didn’t have a character that could live up to her. Liz didn’t quite embody what I’d expect a modern Elizabeth would be. Don’t get me wrong, Liz certainly is strong willed, different from most women, and bitingly sharp but it wasn’t enough to epitomize the effortlessly witty and smart Elizabeth. But I found Liz to be rather instalusty? Understandably, I guess I should also take into account that she’s in her late 30s so it wasn’t like she was inexperienced with dating and relationships. But it felt weird that I didn’t feel the same level of emotion from Liz and Darcy’s relationship compared to the original Elizabeth and Darcy. I can’t exactly describe it, but there was some “ST” (Liz and Charlotte’s abbreviation for “sexual tension”) but beyond that I didn’t buy the subtle emotional yearning in the main couple as I’d like to.
Another aspect that didn’t sit well with me was the degree of Wickham’s modern counterpart’s crimes. Jasper Wick’s wrongdoings at Stanford was sort of silly and not as severe as the offenses the original Wickham made (trying to steal a young girl’s inheritance and chastity). Also Jasper’s misconduct wasn’t enough of a strong tie for Darcy to hate him as the whole plot in the original story with Georgiana.
As for the writing, I loved it. I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for Sittenfeld’s other work (since I’ve heard so much praise on her other titles as well). The text was uniquely wordy (which reminded me of Austen in some respect) and used somewhat challenging vocabulary. The satire and dry humor also made me chuckle more than once.
Reading Eligible was also an engrossing experience in that it gave me an idea what we as a society today may deem as “successful.” I wouldn’t say it was completely accurate or inclusive, but it was fascinating to read Sittenfeld’s commentary on today’s social class and how she painted modern society’s values, stereotypes, and stigmas.
For any author it’d be a courageous challenge to take up such a project like Eligible. But, overall, looking past the two inconsistencies I noticed, Sittenfeld did a pretty believable job with Eligible-decent enough that I think fans of Austen will approve. The cast was excellently upgraded as modern versions of what they’d be if they existed in the 21st century. The plot didn’t stray too far from the original Austen story but also added unpredictable twists of its own that, surprisingly, ended up working well. As an Austen fan, I can safely recommend this to others.
Thank you Random House and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review Eligible. Receiving this electronic review copy did not affect my reading experience or honest review in any way.