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Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Random House

Book: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Genre: Fiction

Subgenre: Romance, family, relationships, love, marriage

My Review and Thoughts: Okay, I have a confession to make. I've never read Pride and Prejudice. I know, I know, I'm a very bad bookworm. Pride and Prejudice is a classic that everyone should read at least once in their lives and I just haven't gotten around to it. But despite never having read the book, I, like most people, pretty much know the story by heart: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy meet and it certainly isn't love at first sight (quite the opposite), but as the story continues, the circumstances change, along with how they first viewed and judged each other, which finally leads to them falling in love. The author of Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld, most likely knew that she was tackling a big undertaking by modernizing a classic that has, hundreds of years later, still has incredibly zealous fans.

I had first heard about the book this year, when Sittenfeld was interviewed by NPR. She sounded incredibly intelligent and thoughtful, so my curiosity was piqued and I decided to read Eligible (you know, without reading Pride and Prejudice first. I know, I'm terrible!). I went in a little hesitantly: How can an author bring this classic story to life without utterly destroying it with modern settings? I was so pleased and amused to learn that Sittenfeld not only told the story well, but with humor and satire as well.

This century's Bennet family is located in Cincinnati, OH, a formerly rich WASP-ish family in massive debt as the wry Mr. Bennet's health scare. Oldest daughters Jane and Elizabeth aka Liz, (40 and 38, respectively) are living in New York and are practically pass their prime, as Mrs. Bennet would say, but they have now returned to the family to help with Mr. Bennet's recuperation. The youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, in their early twenties, are selfish, self-obsessed Crossfit devotees, whereas middle sister Mary is working on her umpteenth online degree and is cloistered away in her room, forever working. The three youngest siblings still live in the family's sprawling Tudor home, which is in desperate need of repair. It's at a family friend's 4th of July party that the elder Bennet sister's meet handsome and sweet Chip Bingley, a young doctor and former contestant on a popular dating show (titled Eligible), and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, a talented neurosurgeon and recent arrival in Cincinnati, and also a pompous ass (according to Liz).

What follows is easy to guess, as it is straight out of Pride and Prejudice, but the modern twists are so clever and inventive that you can't help but be a little surprised to see how this version parallels the original. The idea of the importance of marriage has Sittenfeld push back Jane's (a yoga teacher struggling with infertility) and Liz's (a journalist for a feminist magazine in New York) ages to the late 30's and early 40's to emphasize Mrs. Bennet's panic at the idea of her children never marrying or having children (the portrayal of Mrs. Bennet as a pearl wearing, country club dining semi-racist WASP is brilliantly cringe-worthy) and the selfishness of their younger sisters perfectly mirrors this decades obsession with social media and self-image. What may have been scandalous in Jane Austen's day (a young woman running away with a man, then having to get married to avoid drama and rumors), has to be modified for this day and age. Without giving too much away (it really is best if most of this is a surprise), the scandals are not terrible as portrayed in the original text, but are flipped over and displayed as a way to shake up the traditional and self-absorbed Bennet family that will make you smile and welcome them to the modern age.

Yes, the Bennet family is annoying, materialistic, and infuriating, but Sittenfeld writes them so well, and with such humor and even moments of warmth, that you really do want to see how all of these changes in their lives play out. The writing is the perfect blend of modern language, mixed with wit, and a tad of flair of the language of Austen's time that Sittenfeld adds to create a loving tribute to the original. Pride and Prejudice is considered a feminist story (woman deciding to marry for love, instead of marrying for money) and Eligible is no different. Of course Lizzy Bennet is a feminist and doesn't bow to Darcy. She even takes their utter dislike for each other and proposes what only people in this day and age would ever do (certainly not something the original Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy would ever do): she proposes hate sex, and he willingly agrees. It may seem sacrilegious to some Pride and Prejudice purists ("they would never do such a thing!") but it makes perfect sense that two characters in this decade would take all of their hatred and sexual tension and actually do something about it. That hate sex, of course, leads to more complicated feelings...

Overall, I actually really enjoyed the book and couldn't put it down for two days, and barely noticed the 400+ pages. It was the wit and the back and forth between characters that really hooked me, along with the clever modern parallels to the original (characters and events) that were intelligent and insightful to today's culture. But first and foremost, I was stuck on Liz and Darcy. Even in today's setting, they had that same spark and repartee. When you first meet them, you know that they are destined to be together, but you enjoy the ride to get there like it was the first time... Which is storytelling at it's very finest.

Should You Read It: Honestly, even if you're not a fan of Jane Austen's work (which, just to remind you, I'm not that familiar with), I think you'll still enjoy the satire and writing of Sittenfeld's work. It stands on it's own without being disrespectful to Pride and Prejudice, and it really is a great, engrossing read. Who doesn't love a good love story re-imagined?

Has anyone else read Eligible? Did you like it? What did you think of this century's Elizabeth and Darcy? Let me know what you think!

Happy reading, fellow weirdos!

Stay Weird,
2 comments on "Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld"
  1. This is better:

    1. I've heard so many mixed reviews about it! A lot of people love it and a lot of people don't. But if you say I should read it then I will totally give it a shot :)


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