Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Eligible


Curtis Sittenfeld

April 19, 2016

A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

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. - from Goodreads
Pride and Prejudice was one of those books that I probably should have read in high school but never did, so I read that before starting Eligible so I would have a frame of reference.  Many of the themes of the original readily lend themselves to modern society, which help make Eligible a very successful re-telling.  Mothers wanting to see their daughters married, relationships between sisters, prejudices against those who are different from us - some things haven't changed much since the early 1800s! 

The original Mrs. Bennet was set on having her daughters marry rich society men; in this version, she was probably a little less picky, considering both Jane and Liz are approaching 40 and still single.  In addition to the Bennet daughters being much older than their Austen counterparts, there is also a huge age difference between the sisters, the youngest being only in her early 20s.  I think this led to some interesting dynamics to their relationships; having lived in New York for most of her adult life, Liz has had little interaction with her youngest sisters, so it was fun to see her get to know them better. 

Many of the characters stayed true to their original inspirations while still feeling like they belonged in the 21st century.  Mr. Bennet retains his wit; Caroline is still the over-bearing sister and romantic rival.  Darcy is probably the least successfully adapted character, for me anyway - while the other characters spoke in modern language, Darcy seemed to be stuck in the Austen era, which was sometimes jarring when he was conversing with other characters.  The original Wickham character is split between two characters here, which I didn't mind because Jasper Wick really turned out to be kind of a despicable person, and I'm glad that Lydia ended up with someone else.

Although it is thoroughly modern, I wasn't crazy about the reality TV element of the story.  In particular, the way it affected the ending of the book almost cheapened the relationship between Jane and Bingley for me.

One of my favorite parts of the book was actually the last chapter.  Mary, the middle sister, was only a minor character in Pride and Prejudice and in this version gets a little more page-time, but in the final chapter, I think we learn more about Mary than in all the other pages combined!

I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

4 stars - This book is fun and funny.  I would recommend it to Jane Austen fans who also love contemporary literature and aren't easily offended!

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