Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible is the fourth retelling of a Jane Austen novel in the Austen Project series and arguably the hardest to do because of how well known and loved Pride and Prejudice, the source novel, is but I think Curtis Sittenfeld has pulled it off with aplomb.
The Bennet sisters have been summoned from New York City.
Liz and Jane are good daughters. They’ve come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery, to tidy up the crumbling Tudor-style family home, and to wrench their three sisters from their various states of arrested development.
Once they are under the same roof, old patterns return fast. Soon enough they are being berated for their single status, their only respite the early morning runs they escape on together. For two successful women in their late thirties, it really is too much to bear. That is, until the Lucas family’s BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men . . .
Chip Bingley is not only a charming doctor, he’s a reality TV star too. But Chip’s friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, can barely stomach Cincinnati or its inhabitants. Jane is entranced by Chip; Liz, sceptical of Darcy. As Liz is consumed by her father’s mounting medical bills, her wayward sisters and Cousin Willie trying to stick his tongue down her throat, it isn’t only the local chilli that will leave a bad aftertaste.
But where there are hearts that beat and mothers that push, the mysterious course of love will resolve itself in the most entertaining and unlikely of ways.
If you’re going to carry off a successful modern retelling, you can’t simply transplant a 200-year-old story to a modern-day setting. There will of necessity have to be changes, compromises and tweaks to the original and these all work for me here. The author transfers the action to modern-day Cincinnati, with brief excursions to New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, and really makes that work for her characters and the story. I could understand why Curtis Sittenfeld told the story the way she did, and in doing so, I think she creates something which is a clever retelling of the story with attention paid to how it would play out in a contemporary setting but also something which could stand on its own as a novel and quite happily be read for its own sake and enjoyment.
At over 500 pages, this never felt like a long novel: its short chapters and the way the prose zips along made this a sheer pleasure to read, and I absolutely loved its energy which captures some of the pace and wit which Jane Austen injected into her original. If you know and love Pride and Prejudice, as I do, I hope you’ll give this retelling a chance. I think you’ll find much to like about it and it’s a joy to read an author who writes with such wit and assurance. If you don’t know Pride and Prejudice, then I’d recommend this novel to you as a fast-paced, sharp-witted take on a particular section of modern American family life.
I’ve been meaning to read Curtis Sittenfeld for some time. (I have all four of her previous novels waiting on my TBR shelf.) Now I know I have some treats lined up, as this is indeed a most excellent Eligible.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is published in the UK by Borough Press, a Harper Collins imprint. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback and paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. You can find out more about Curtis Sittenfeld and her other books from her Author Website or on Twitter or on Facebook.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley although obviously this book is a keeper and I’ve bought my own copy, as well, to keep her other books company.