Review: Eligible (The Austen Project #4) by Curtis Sittenfeld
Publication: April 19, 2016 by Random House
Verdict: Good/Very Good
A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .
And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.
Similarly to the cultural phenomenon of everything Sherlockian, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a piece of classic literature often mined for inspiration and reworking. In Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy- and the entire beloved world of Pride and Prejudice– is brought to life in modern-day Cincinnati.
With an easy rhythm, witty dialogue and focused narrative, readers are quickly drawn into a brand-new yet instantly recognizable Bennet-led world. Sittenfeld did a pretty solid job here in capturing the essentials of most all of the notable characters- as well as breathing fresh and intriguing life into the oft-ignored (or perhaps less-than-popular) Mary Bennet. I do feel that the character of Liz took perhaps a bit too long to fully develop- for around the first third of the novel, I felt as though her character, as well as Darcy’s, were lacking that certain magic, spark or charm. The last third, however, does a deserving treatment to both characters…so much so that one cannot help but get antsy in demand of their happily-ever-after!
Overall, Eligible is a easy-to-consume and smartly written read. Sittenfeld fairs very well in bringing a funny, sharply observed and fresh take on what is considered to be a monumental classic. Will firm Liz & Mr. Darcy or Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth fans adore this read? It’s hard to say, though as a big fan of both the Ehle-Firth AND Knightley-Macfadyen versions, I personally found much to savour and anticipate in this new telling. While I found parts of the last third of the novel to drag a bit, the entirety of Eligible is an enjoyable ride- with some terrific and unexpected surprises up its sleeve.