Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible is a retelling of Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice, and the fourth book in what is being called The Austen Project, wherein different authors are modernizing the classic tales.
In the case of Eligible, the Bennet family have been transplanted to Cincinnati, Ohio. Jane is a yogi and ‘Liz’ (She will always be a Lizzy to me. I can’t see her as a Liz.) writes for a feminist magazine, both in NYC. The other three girls live with their parents. Mary is working toward her third online masters degree, and Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with CrossFit. Chip Bingley and Darcy are doctors, and Bingley is somewhat of a celebrity after having appeared on The Bachelor Eligible. Jane and Lizzy return to Cincinnati for the summer because Mr. Bennet suffers a heart attack and Mrs. Bennet is too busy planning a fundraising luncheon that she is chairing for the first time to take care of him.
I’ve seen and heard this book mentioned a lot, and I knew it was about a Bachlor-esque show, but it wasn’t until I picked it up that I realized it was a P&P retelling. As a lover of all things P&P, I dropped what I was reading and finished this is about a day and a half. I was, at varying parts, fangirling and cringing, depending on how far removed from the original we got.
There are a lot of feelings I have about this book, so we’re just going to run through a few and I’ll say Yay or Ugh depending on the thing in question:
Lydia being a generally awful person (Ugh, although it is mostly accurate to cannon)
Lydia NOT running off with Wickam (Mixed feelings, but mostly Yay because I actually like her love interest in this version and I can totally see cannon Lydia doing what she did if she were in present day)
Kitty being a real human character being with a life that doesn’t quite revolve around Lydia like it did in the original (SO MUCH YAY)
Kitty getting a love interest (EVEN MORE YAY)
The whole Lydia/Mary hatred (UGH)
Mary not getting a love interest (ALL OF THE UGH)
The book is done in a much more YA/Adult way than I have previously come across in P&P retellings. There wasn’t a big scandal really in this version, although depending on your view of the world, maybe it counts as a scandal to you.
Wickam in this version is Jasper Wick. Which is all fine and good except that if not for the actual description of him being blond I would have pictured him as Rufus Sewell (whom you may recall as having played Jasper in The Holiday as well as Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale. Not usually a nice character, but still the only face I picture when I hear the name Jasper. And the name is always read in my head in Kate Winslet’s voice). And maybe it was only because I was picturing Sewell that I thought it was super obvious how much of a bad dude he was from the start, but to be honest I think it really was just super obvious. Liz pining after him was upsetting, and the background between him and Darcy is not nearly as serious in this version as in most others. Actually, many of the characters were not connected in nearly so many ways as they usually are, with Catherine de Bourgh barely making a blip on the radar, and Mr. Collins being a first (albeit step-first) cousin.
So, there’s a lot that is different, and different can often be good. However, while I absolutely hated Lydia’s closed-mindedness, the ending that Mary received put me over the edge. Pardon my rant. ***SPOILERS AHEAD*** Did we somehow run out of original ways for someone to get a love interest? Why does Mary not get one? Why does she always have to end up alone? I won’t lie, I probably wouldn’t be making this much of a deal if Lydia ended up alone because I usually dislike her and she deserves a taste of her own medicine. But Kitty and Mary are so often forgotten or shoved to the side or made old maids that it just really bugs me. The fact that Kitty was redeemed in this version made me so happy, and then the last chapter got my hopes up that we would find someone for Mary, only to ruin everything. The Bennet sisters have always had titles: Jane is the pretty one, Lizzy is the witty one, Mary is the scholar and the musician, Kitty is the follower, and Lydia is the boy crazy one. The fact that Kitty wasn’t a total follower in Eligible led me to mistakenly believe that Mary wouldn’t suffer her usual fate. Unfortunately she did, and as usual, she was alone forever. WHY IS THE SUPER SMART GIRL ALWAYS LEFT ALONE??? I get that she can be annoying because she wants to play piano and sing all the time in most versions and she’s not a good singer. I get that her anecdotes of knowledge typically go over her family’s heads. But why can’t she get a love interest? It baffles me. I have always pictured Mary falling in love with a Darwin-esque scientist and them travelling the world together performing research. That is what I was hoping for. That, to me, is so quintessentially Mary that I become angry as well as hurt whenever it doesn’t pan out for her. Sometimes I wonder if I read P&P retellings just to find out if Mary and Kitty make it out any differently this time around.
But really, Eligible is well done. There are obviously things I would change, but that’s just me being picky about P&P. I had a hard time identifying with these versions of the Bennets, but for every person like me, I’m sure there is someone out there saying ‘Finally! A Bennet family I can identify with! Yay modernity!‘ So, I would probably recommend reading Eligible to anyone who is a fan of Pride and Prejudice simply because I’m very interested to hear what their thoughts are. In addition, anyone who likes contemporary romances will probably love this book. I am not one of them, but there’s nothing to say you won’t be.
HHC Rating: 3 Stars