Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld, published by Random House, anticipated publication date is April 19, 2016. This is the fourth novel in the Austen Project, which pairs bestselling modern authors with Austen’s books. You do not need to read the earlier books prior to reading Eligible. I received an ARC from NetGalley.
If you know anything about me, you either know I’m a huge Jane Austen fan or could guess based on the fact that I’m a middle aged lady who came of age during the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice miniseries heyday. (Also, road trip, anyone?)
I tend to shy away from retellings of beloved classics (why ruin something that’s already a classic?) – and don’t even get me started on spinoffs. I paged through one of those books written about the Darcys’ kids at a Barnes & Noble once and almost threw the book across the store. Eligible landed on my must list, however, because of Curtis Sittenfeld, who I’ve long admired from past novels, such as Prep and American Wife.
Eligible is a lot of fun. It is eminently readable, with chapters that fly past in one or two Kindle screens. I stayed up past my bedtime a few nights: “Just one more chapter, then I’ll go to sleep…oh wait, just one more.” The reimagining of Austen’s novel is clever, albeit jarring for the first few chapters. (I’d gone into it assuming Eligible would be not quite so literal; I was expecting a Liza Bentley, maybe, instead of an actual character named Elizabeth Bennet. Eh, such is the nature of expectations.)
Although Sittenfeld’s characters encounter potential loss and setbacks (fertility, health care costs, debt), they do not face the kinds of devastating consequences that are always looming near Austen’s characters. Sure, I was rooting for Sittenfeld’s characters to succeed, but the original Bennets faced the kind of ruin unimaginable to the upper middle class Cincinnati family in Sittenfeld’s retelling. For Austen’s characters, there was no safety net. If the Bennet sisters did not marry, they could easily have been thrown onto the streets with little to no recourse. For Sittenfeld’s characters, there is no modern comparison. Because of this, I found Eligible to lack the urgency (and inherent darkness) of the original.
I’m not sure there’s any way around this barring a retelling of Pride & Prejudice among modern characters who really don’t have a safety net – now there’s an interesting challenge. Eligible is more like a really great beach read. Nothing wrong with that. In the end, it was a heck of a lot of fun to read.