Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Large Print Paperback
Pages: 656
Source: Random House Publishing
Publisher: Random House Large Print
First Published: April 19, 2016
First Line: "Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife."

Book Description from 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.

Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Going into this review I feel the need to admit that after two attempts in the past I have yet to read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the whole way through (I think I've gotten half way through twice).  Shameless, I know.  So I'm going into Eligible with a faint knowledge of the Bennett family and their story which, of course, includes the desire for Mrs Bennett to marry off her five daughters and the contentious and often complex relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Armed with a bit of background on the Bennett family I was ready to see how this modern version would stack up.  Sittenfeld has written a very engaging book featuring this famous clan and has transported them from early 19th century England to a modern Cincinnati in 2013, modernizing their story lines accordingly with great success.

We're still dealing with Mrs Bennett obsessing over the fact that her five daughters have yet to marry but Sittenfeld has thrown in some modern issues as well including: reproductive freedom, love, secrets, racism, homophobia, feminism, sexuality, LGBT and gender identity.  These were a lot of issues within one book but overall I think it worked. Sittenfeld also features story lines involving modern realities such as Reality TV dating shows, paleo diets, Crossfit, reproductive options and all sorts of modern and technological innovations of which modern readers can relate.

Humorous retorts add much levity throughout the book, most of which stem from Mr Bennett's muttering as well as some atrocious behaviour from Lydia and Kitty, the free-loading twenty-something sisters.  Mrs Bennett's blatant racism and tunnel vision when it comes to her daughters' lack of nuptials was a little over the top and even grating at times.  Her comments and behaviours were nothing if not predictable (and oh so very snooty and bigoted).

There are a lot of characters in this book but Sittenfeld manages to give them quite distinctive personalities which make it easy for the reader to remember them.  But it is Lizzie who is the heart of the book.  She's likeable, makes mistakes and has nothing but good intentions for her family members. Lizzie's biggest role is that of 'family fixer' as she tries to help everyone get along and succeed which is admirable (and necessary when you look at the rest of her family) but this aspect became a little annoying to me as I felt she went from 'fixer' to 'doormat' fairly quickly with certain people.

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lizzie's connection was good but I guess I was expecting a little more. They are drawn to each other yet often don't get along and misunderstandings between them abound.  One such misunderstanding Lizzie has about Darcy feelings for her fell a little flat for me especially when a simple text could have cleared things up.

This is a light-hearted read but also deals with many modern issues with knowledge and sensitivity.  The Bennetts aren't your typical family and most are quite annoying or downright offensive but they're a hoot to read about. I liked going into this book a little blind to the plot of the original story yet having an idea about the characters personalities.  Since I haven't read the original all the way through I cannot comment on how this book relates to Austen's book but I will say that I enjoyed this read on its own merit. Perhaps Sittenfeld has put a fire under me to finally try to read Pride and Prejudice from beginning to end.  The third time may be the charm.

Don't let the size of this book scare you away.  With its very brief chapters (some spanning only a few paragraphs) Eligible was an enjoyably quick read. This is a witty, cheeky beach read that you'll devour in a flash.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Heather said...
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Nikki said...

I've never made it through Pride & Prejudice either! I'm not sure why, because I do enjoy the writing style...maybe I should give it another try. Great review! I really enjoyed this retelling :)

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Thanks Nikki. Glad to see I'm not the only one who hasn't made it all the way through P&P. I also loved the writing and humour but about half way through I lost the desire to continue both times I tried reading it. Some day I'll pick it up again.

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