Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligible cover.jpgMy Masters is finished, guys. It’s done. I’ve been reading and reading for the last three weeks. It’s been such a relief to rediscover reading for fun. I went home for a couple of days shortly after handing in my dissertation, and after that went to Cornwall for a family weekend. Between getting home and going to Cornwall, I picked up my mum’s copy of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Let me start by saying overall, this is a great, fun read for any lovers of Pride and Prejudice. Considering it was over 500 pages and I read it in a couple of days (partly because I didn’t want to lug the giant hardback on my holiday…), obviously I had an excellent time reading this. I am a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, my comfort watching mostly consists of Austen adaptations, my mum and I spend a good amount of time exchanging Austen-isms. So believe me when I say, if you like Pride and Prejudice the way I do, you’ll love this. But you might have some reservations too.

I’m also going to break with my usual review format, just to warn you

(no! I hear you cry)

Brief synopsis

Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice takes place in Cincinnati. Liz and Jane Bennet have been summoned home from their lives in New York while their father recovers from heart surgery. Old patterns of behaviour return between the parents and the five sisters, the three youngest of whom live at home.

Also fresh to Cincinnati are Chip Bingley, star of the reality TV show Eligible, a charming and sensitive doctor who only has eyes for Jane, and his friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy. And we all know what happens from there.

Things I didn’t like so much

I don’t usually start with negatives, but these are mostly just personal reservations I had while reading, rather than universal criticisms I imagine everyone will have.

My first reservation is just that if you don’t love Pride and Prejudice, or even know the story, this book might not work. There are a lot of P&P in-jokes. A lot. And so much of my enjoyment came from seeing how each aspect of the story, each character and each plot development, was cleverly updated. Without knowing where all these things came from, would it be as much fun? Hard to say. Of course, the likelihood of someone picking this up who wasn’t already a Pride and Prejudice fan is very slim, so maybe this isn’t a valid criticism, but it nagged at me a bit while reading.

My second reservation – and this may be controversial – is that I didn’t like Liz. She didn’t ring true to me as Lizzy. I was still on her side, still winced for her at the slight from Darcy at the BBQ, still wanted her to have a happy ending. However, when I read it, I didn’t find her amicable, which Lizzy inherently is. I found her to be short-tempered, and while Lizzy is quick-witted and usually has something clever to say, Liz in Eligible seemed to snap rather than wittily retort.

Finally, before I get to the things I liked (which do, never fear, outweigh my reservations), my final criticism is that I thought it would have worked better in first person. If memory serves, Liz was in every single scene, and the biased third-person narration probably added to my dislike of Liz’s character, since it had all the notes of an un-self-conscious, unreliable narrator, without the intimacy of the first-person narration. If the voice we were hearing had been Liz’s rather than the semi-omniscient narrator, I might have liked her more.

Things I liked

Despite what I’ve said above, this could be a huge section, and I don’t want to spoil the joys of discovering Sittenfeld’s moments of hilarity and cleverness, so here are a few quick notes on what I liked:

  • The use of the show Eligible to reflect the gossip of Hertfordshire in Pride and Prejudice toward Bingley’s arrival
  • The development of Liz and Darcy’s relationship was a stroke of genius and I think I barked with laughter when… *SPOILER*. But if you’ve read it…you know which bit I mean
  • The mystery of Mary’s secret Tuesday night outings
  • The Wickham adaptation. Part out it had to be explained to me (I feel silly) but I particularly liked Jasper Wick
  • Jane as a yogi – this rang so very true with me
  • The re-aging of the characters, the nifty scenario in which all the Bennet sisters end up back at their childhood home
  • Mrs Bennet: the Hoarder

Should I read this?

If you like Pride and Prejudice, then yes, of course you should read this. Despite its size it is not a long read, and you’ll definitely have a lot of fun reading it. Even if, like me, you have a few minor reservations.