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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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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.
Wit is the hallmark of Pride and Prejudice and a talent completely alien to Ms. Sittenfeld. Instead of pages peppered with sardonic quips and epigrams we are anesthetized with the endless drones and whines of petty malcontents. Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Bennett are three of the great comic creations of literature. Each serves an important function, allowing Austen to gently satirize figures of power, i.e., the Church, the aristocracy, parental 'authority'. Those reincarnated in Eligible are barely recognizable boobies who are merely contemptible.
Worse yet are Eligible's two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Jane. The original Elizabeth Bennett is a woman of intelligence, humor and the courage to stand up for her sex and what one might term an equality of the talented. She is a model of moral rectitude and propriety and as the daughter of a gentleman, she is, therefore, a lady. Her place in the world is determined by not merely her birth but by her behavior. The modern Ms. Bennett is unremarkable in every way except she is a bit of a skank, having an affair with a married man, injudicious in personal relationships and rather stuck in the same mid-level job for years and going nowhere. The problem with depicting Ms. Bennett as having the dubious morals to settle for a married guy on the down low is that it diminishes her inherent superiority and therefore appeal. There is a whiff of failed expectations about Sittenfeld's character that clings to her like cheap perfume.
One of the great pleasures of Pride and Prejudice lies in its reinterpretation of what an irresistible and alluring woman actually is: smart, outspoken and strong. The reader is delighted to watch Mr. Darcy succumb to Miss Bennett's charms while watching her learn she has been hasty and judgmental. These simultaneous awakenings are deftly handled by Austen, a writer of the first rank. Let's just say Ms. Sittenfeld is to nuance what Velveeta is to artisanal cheese. The modern Jane starts off well--she's an unmarried 40-year-old yoga instructor--and would fit a present day description of a woman about to be over-the-hill. But then the author piles on some truly cringe-worthy detail about artificial insemination. It was the only time in 500 pages I laughed out loud, and it was for all the wrong reasons. I wondered what Austen would make of an homage that has a beloved character being turkey basted in an infertility clinic. Yikes.
Darcy fails as badly as Elizabeth in Eligible, though this is not entirely the author's fault. The social distinctions, indeed the chasm of class is simply not a part of modern day British society, much less American. Therefore, the genuine social gulf that requires breaching in the original--Elizabeth's merit makes her worthy to rise from gentry to aristocracy--is non-existent. Unfortunately, there can be no true social transformation that infuriates the Lady Catherine's of the world and makes them rant about the shades of Pemberly being polluted. We're left to root, like Jewish grandmothers, for the girls to land themselves a DOCTOR! What what was subversive in Pride and Prejudice is mere cliche in Eligible. And that about sums up the entire, tiresome experience. One of the most refreshing and most delightful stories in all of literature is made dull as dishwater.
An introduction from the editor crows the author's fans will follow her anywhere. If true, I suggest they put on their Wellie's. They're in for a long slog through a lot of dreck.
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