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Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice Hardcover – April 19, 2016
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From School Library Journal
With her latest, Sittenfeld has crafted an entertaining modern update of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, though one that at times strains credulity. Like their Regency counterparts, the 21st-century Bennets are approaching crisis—potential financial ruin as a result of Mr. Bennet's heart attack—but are blissfully oblivious. To put things right, Liz, a successful magazine writer, and Jane, a yoga teacher contemplating artificial insemination, return from New York City to the family home in Ohio. When Chip Bingley, the former star of a Bachelor-esque show and still single, enters the scene with his arrogant sister Caroline and the seemingly pompous Fitzwilliam Darcy in tow, it's clear that romance is on the horizon. While the story is compulsively readable, the pop culture references make it unwieldy at times. As always, Sittenfeld soars when it comes to portraying relationships, and teens will particularly enjoy the witty barbs that fly between Caroline and Liz. Often, however, the author's attempts to hew closely to Austen's plot result in some odd choices. Where in the original, Mrs. Bennet's desire to marry Lizzy off to the unctuous Mr. Collins stemmed from understandable motives, here, her insistence that Liz become involved with her cousin, a socially inept dotcom millionaire, is downright bizarre. Nevertheless, this is an overall breezy read that will have savvy teens laughing. VERDICT Although this work doesn't hold up under close scrutiny, it's an utterly engrossing, hilariously over-the-top send-up that will appeal to Sittenfeld fans, Janeites, and lovers of chick lit.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
“Even the most ardent Austenite will soon find herself seduced.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Blissful . . . [Curtis] Sittenfeld modernizes the classic in such a stylish, witty way you’d guess even Jane Austen would be pleased.”—People (book of the week)
“[A] sparkling, fresh contemporary retelling.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[Sittenfeld] is the ideal modern-day reinterpreter. Her special skill lies not just in her clear, clean writing, but in her general amusement about the world, her arch, pithy, dropped-mike observations about behavior, character and motivation. She can spot hypocrisy, cant, self-contradiction and absurdity ten miles away. She’s the one you want to leave the party with, so she can explain what really happened. . . . Not since Clueless, which transported Emma to Beverly Hills, has Austen been so delightedly interpreted. . . . Sittenfeld writes so well—her sentences are so good and her story so satisfying. . . . As a reader, let me just say: Three cheers for Curtis Sittenfeld and her astute, sharp and ebullient anthropological interest in the human condition.”—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review
“Bold and brilliant.”—Glamour
“A clever, uproarious evolution of Austen’s story.”—The Denver Post
“If there exists a more perfect pairing than Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Austen, we dare you to find it. . . . Sittenfeld makes an already irresistible story even more beguiling and charming.”—Elle
“A playful, wickedly smart retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.”—BuzzFeed
“Sittenfeld is an obvious choice to re-create Jane Austen’s comedy of manners. [She] is a master at dissecting social norms to reveal the truths of human nature underneath.”—The Millions
“A hugely entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable book, bursting with wit and charm.”—The Irish Times
“A delightful romp for not only Austen devotees but also lovers of romantic comedies and sly satire, as well . . . Bestselling Sittenfeld plus Jane Austen? What more could mainstream fiction readers ask for?”—Booklist (starred review)
“Endlessly amusing . . . Her take on Austen’s iconic characters is skillful, her pacing excellent, and her dialog highly entertaining. . . . Austen fans will adore this new offering, a wonderful addition to the genre.”—Library Journal
“An unputdownable retelling of the beloved classic.”—PopSugar
“Sittenfeld adeptly updates and channels Austen’s narrative voice—the book is full of smart observations on gender and money. . . . A clever retelling of an old-fashioned favorite.”—Publishers Weekly
“The modernization of this classic story allows for a greater and more humorous range of incompetency and quirks; for example, Mrs. Bennet now has Valium and online shopping to distract her from constant anxiety. These familiar characters must deal with issues far beyond class and the all-important institution of marriage; everything from sexuality to racism to eating disorders and single parenthood factor in. And it’s all written in a giddily charming blend of nineteenth-century novel–meets–twenty-first-century casual swearing. . . . Delight in this tale for its hilarious and endearing family drama.”—Kirkus Reviews
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I really, really wanted to like this book – I love Jane Austen, and the pre released teaser sample sounded excellent – but no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t sit well with me. In the interests of fairness, given how well known and beloved Pride and Prejudice has become, it was always going to be one of the trickier ones to adapt. Let me talk about what I liked first.
What I liked
The modernisation. Many things in the update worked surprisingly well. The transfer of the action from Hertfordshire to Cincinnati was seamless and gave a very similar flavour of the small town mentality that caused Darcy’s snobbish attitude. The Bennet family’s future being at risk because of the lack of a male heir is not something that would fit well with a modern tale, so Sittenfeld uses a more up to date threat which works in well. Surprisingly the whole reality TV show plotline adapts well and served to enhance both the story and the characters.
The narration. I listened to Eligible in audiobook format. Narration duties were undertaken by Cassandra Campbell who did a great job of narrating the tales of the Bennet sisters. I chose the book in audiobook format because of the sneak peek narration.
What I didn’t like
The chapter break up. The audiobook is 13 hours and 21 minutes long, so approximately 800 minutes. This is relatively short in terms of audiobooks. I believe the hard copy comes in at around 500 pages. There are over 180 chapters in the book. Let me say that again. One hundred and eighty chapters. This means that, on average, there is a new chapter roughly every four minutes. Some chapters last less than 40 seconds. Especially in the audiobook I found it extremely distracting and detrimental to my engagement in the story to have it broken up so frequently.
Character development. My biggest issue with Eligible was that I didn’t feel Sittenfeld accurately portrayed – or even at times understood – Austen’s wonderful characters and/or their journeys. It is fair to say that, perhaps her interpretation of Elizabeth, Jane and Lydia just isn’t the same as mine; however I would argue that they also differ from Austen’s.
To take Lydia first; while both Austen’s and Sittenfeld’s youngest Bennet sister is young, immature and, yes, does occasionally push the boundaries of propriety I have never perceived her as being downright crude and vulgar as she comes across in Eligible. Admittedly, I will never be able to read P&P with an Austen era mentality, so I could be wrong here. Secondly, Lydia’s story arc in Austen’s original has her family (and ultimately Darcy) having to step in to protect her from the consequences of an imprudent and ill considered decision. While it is not an easy task to come up with a modern storyline that has the same shock value and social repercussions that nineteeth century Lydia’s running off alone with a man would have, and I can see what Sittenfeld was trying to do, I personally disagree with her choice. At that point in the story I found myself thinking “What imprudent decision? What consequences?” Sittenfeld even has her Lydia try to sit down with her parents and discuss her decision before taking action and the impression I was left with was that it was a far more balanced and thought out decision than Austen’s Lydia would have made.
Jane’s character arc, too, wasn’t always given the service it should have. In my mind, in the original, Jane’s character flaw was that she wasn’t confident enough to express her feelings adequately to Bingley. This allowed Darcy to interfere in the relationship believing that she was not very strongly attached to Bingley. This is a flaw which she must overcome to achieve her happy ending. In Sittenfeld’s reworking, it’s Jane’s circumstances which force her to be more reserved about expressing her feelings, therefore no flaw, no character development.
Finally, we come to Elizabeth, the second oldest Bennet sister. My impression of Elizabeth from Austen’s original was that she is an intelligent, strong willed woman, who has a strong sense of self worth and who is not prepared to compromise that. Sittenfeld’s description of her Liz’s relationship with Jasper does not show a woman with a strong sense of self worth. Perhaps that’s Eligible Liz’s character arc, to regain that sense of self, but it’s not the arc of Austen’s character, and as such I didn’t feel it should have been part of the story, especially as Austen’s Elizabeth already has a strong character development arc in overcoming her prejudice of Darcy.
While there were some excellently written parts of Eligible, for me, it is the weakest of the Austen project books in terms of bringing Austen’s characters to life in a modern setting. I gave Eligible only 1.5 stars out of five.
If you want to see a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice done well, I recommend you rather take a look at The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube.
Most days I agree with this statement. Today I do not.
My shelves are filled with classic literature, and subsequently hundreds of books that retell those classic stories from many different angles in many different eras. They are some of my most beloved books. Why? Because they take what I love and allow me to read it over and over again with fresh eyes.
Some of them are silly, most…serious but I have enjoyed each and every one of them for what they are.
When I first caught wind that Curtis Sittenfeld (an author I had not read but heard much about) was publishing a modern retelling of (easily) my favorite book…I was excited. That excitement however, quickly faded when I realized “Eligible” was more of a mockery of Austen’s work than an actual reworking of it.
Let’s start with the plot first (because I’m much less angsty about it than the characters.)
While the parallels between Austen and Sittenfeld’s version were easily recognizable, most were poorly executed. Not once, but in every chapter scenes were chopped and pieced back together like a puzzle. Insignificant information (usually flashbacks explaining a siblings past behavior, but also the listing of every street name Liz passed during her daily jog) seemed to be Sittenfeld’s niche, engulfing more space than necessary. Because of this quirk…the active plot felt like an afterthought, a stitch in Sittenfeld’s side that needed to be taken care of rather than nurtured. It also led to missed opportunities and bad choices.
Most of those bad choices had to do with her characters, and how each was dealt with. Or more importantly…how some (who should have been significant) were mentioned offhandedly, and others (who were all but meaningless) took up entire chapters.
For example, feminist extraordinaire Kathy De Bourgh. (I think that’s how she spells it…I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment.)
Liz (when not playing house maid to every member of her family) is a journalist. At one point, her job catches up to her and she must interview Ms. De Bourgh for an article. Several pages are taken up with nothing other than Liz’s communication (or lack there of) with De Bough’s publicist. Several additional pages are devoted to how amazing and influential Ms. DB is. Then, Sittenfeld moves on to De Bourgh’s works, and we are blessed with a full account of everything she has written and all of her notable quotes. We are now (as readers) successfully primed for the interview of a lifetime. To bad it’s not going to happen (at least not right now, when everyone cares.) Why? Because Liz (who has been trying for A VERY LONG TIME) to secure a time to talk to Ms. DB decides to lie about being busy when the opportunity arises. That’s roughly 15 pages devoted to Ms. DB without any payoff. But wait…there’s more. When the opportunity arises again, Liz finally jumps on the ball. An interview takes place. Praise baby Jesus. Unfortunately, NONE of it freaking matters. Ms. De Bourgh (unlike in the original telling) means NOTHING. She has zero importance to the story WHATSOEVER!
This is a continual problem throughout the book.
Jasper Wick. Georgiana Darcy. Collins. Mrs. Bennett’s lady’s luncheon. (This list could go on and on) are pointless. The references to them are exhaustive (ok, maybe not Gerogie…I’d actually refer to her as a missed opportunity) and only serve as brakes in an already poorly paced story.
But believe it or not…Sittenfeld’s rambling wasn’t even my biggest issue with the book. Nope, I had two of those and they almost made me put the book down. (Or more accurately delete it from my kindle.)
The youngest Bennett sisters and the total lack of chemistry between Liz and Darcy.
I get that the youngest of the Bennett crowd (Mary, Lydia, Kitty) are somewhat foolish. Even in the original they read as a parody to their time (intentionally of course) but in “Eligible” they are nothing less than polarizing. Mary is brash and rude while Lydia and Kitty are…well…vulgar. It’s ok to exaggerate the flaws of characters, but Sittenfeld went too far this time. I HATED them. ALL of them. They were left with no redeeming qualities. Very badly done.
And then there were Liz and Darcy. The REASON that people flock to “Pride & Prejudice” to begin with. While separately they were fine, together they were a disaster. They had zero chemistry. Even when they were engaging in what Liz referred to as “hate sex” there remained a void. To make matters worse, Sittenfeld never even TRIED to correct the problem, establish tension, create a few romantic moments. Nope, instead she relied on her other characters (mainly Charlotte) to TELL Liz that her and Darcy had some serious ST. (Yep, that’s how she referred to it in the book. ST for sexual tension. She couldn’t even be bothered to write it out.) *sigh*
This is what put the nail in the coffin for me. Sealed the deal. For 500 pages I put up with penis jokes, transgender/gay/body-shaming/closet racist shock stock, and an annoying street guide for what?
I’ll tell you for what. So that I could get to the good part. So that I could watch the classic tale of Liz and Darcy unravel in a brand-new and exciting way. Instead I got some second-rate reality TV schlub, no tension, and a choppy ending.
I read every page of this book, and honestly…I wish I hadn’t. If this was supposed to be Sittenfeld’s form of flattery to Austen, then my heart truly goes out to Austen. Because this was just BAD.
I say don’t waste your time. Especially if you are a tried and true P&P fan.