“He’s a lawyer in Atlanta, and he’s very active in his church,” Mrs. Bennet said. “If that’s not the description of a man looking for a wife, I don’t know what is.”
For some reason (they asked her to) Curtis Sittenfeld was compelled to write a modern version of Pride and Prejudice and for some reason (no one asked me to) I was compelled to swallow a valerian root and read it.
Because I had so much trepidation about someone potentially destroying what is, for me, the best book ever written, I decided to read P&P for the 500th time before I read Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Now I give a lot of advice, usually unasked and unwelcome, but it is important that you believe me when I tell you that this is a bad idea. Do not do this. Give yourself some space from the original because you are going to need an open mind. I sabotaged myself by doing this because I spent the first 100 or so pages grieving, and it was unnecessary – if you aren’t directly comparing them you will probably enjoy every minute of this book. Once I got over myself, I definitely did.
This is called “A Modern Retelling” and they are not kidding around about that. To make the story more current, Jane and Liz are both pushing forty and a biological clock replaces primogeniture as the compelling story driver. They are both professionals, Liz a magazine writer and Jane a yoga instructor, living in New York. They are called home to Cincinnati by their father’s medical emergency and thrust back in to the family dynamic. Mary is still the odd woman out; in this story she is working on her third online master’s degree and barely leaves the house. Kitty and Lydia remain two of literature’s biggest assholes, both in their early twenties, unemployed and lazy, getting by on their good looks and CrossFit bodies. They are vile, and embarrassing, as the story dictates they must be.
While all the characters have a massive makeover to fit the new era, the spirit of most of them comes through and makes sense. Chip Bingley is a reality show star, and Fitzwilliam Darcy a neurosurgeon, and the romantic ups and downs of their lives with Jane and Liz make sense for the new setting but still very much honor the original. Others are less obviously drawn with a straight line – Cathy DeBurgh, a feminist hero, Mr. Collins an awkward Silicon Valley whiz kid – and the diversions that Sittenfeld takes are fun and interesting. Even Wickham is more idiot than blackguard, but I rolled with it because I am (occasionally) flexible like that.
Eligible is the fourth in the series of The Austen Project, which pairs contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. I also read Joanna Trollope’s take on Sense and Sensibility and enjoyed it quite a bit. The best way I can summarize my feelings about this book is to say that I would have liked it very much, even if it had nothing to do with P&P. The writing is sharp and very funny and the characters are familiar and yet completely brand new.
Grade – B+