Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you thought a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice--set mainly in present day Cincinnati--didn't exactly sound like a page-turner, no one could exactly blame you. But, nonetheless, you'd be quite wrong. Sittenfeld's novel imagines the Bennet family in our modern times; Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live in a rambling Tudor home in Cincinnati: broke and somewhat clueless as their house crumbles around them. Mrs. Bennet spends her time clucking around her five unmarried daughters: Jane, Liz, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. The book revolves mainly around the perspective of Liz, a magazine writer in her upper thirties living in New York City. She and Jane, also in NYC, return home to their parents and younger sisters after Mr. Bennet has a heart attack, only to find the house and the family in a bit of a shambles.
The book is amazing. It's been a while since I read "Pride and Prejudice," but even I can tell you that the novel does an excellent job of following the original plot without being annoying or cloying. It's Pride and Prejudice with lesbians and hate sex! The book comes across as familiar yet new, allowing you to ache, laugh, and rage at what feels like a group of old friends.
Mr. Bennet is a trip, even while having a heartbreaking sadness and sweetness at his core (though some of his zingers are priceless). The younger sisters are as (nearly) vapid as to be expected--truly awful at times--for much of the book. But seriously, Lydia and Kitty loving CrossFit? It's awesome. And Liz is wonderful; you will adore this surprisingly realistic and modern Liz, with all of her foibles and issues: a truly modern Liz struggling mightily to keep her family together and afloat.
As for Darcy, well he's as Darcy as ever. Somehow Sittenfeld has managed to truly capture the essence of Austen's Darcy and Elizabeth in her new characters. I don't know how, but it's funny and lovely all at the same time. (Side note: As a woman in her early thirties, will I ever be able to read about Darcy without picturing Colin Firth? I now have a desperate need to watch the BBC/A&E mini-series again.)
Overall, I found this book funny, touching, and compulsively readable. The characters are truly characters: they are fully formed within moments of picking up the book. The city of Cincinnati makes a great guest appearance, with the city playing a prominent role in many scenes (hi Skyline Chili!). If you loved the original, you'll find this updated version enjoyable and imaginative, with a surprising depth behind it. If you've never read Austen's work (and you should), you will still discover a funny, sweet yet weighty story of a family trying to make it in this day and age. Highly recommended (4.5 stars).
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for U.S. publication on 4/19/16.
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