My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a modern American retelling of Austen’s perennial favourite Pride and Prejudice. Set 200 years later and in Cincinnati, it was such fun to revisit Liz Bennet, one of the most loved heroines in English literature.
Pride and Prejudice has been retold so very many times that I was worried Sittenfeld would struggle to do anything new with the source material, and either mirror another adaptation too closely, or stray so far from the original that I would have to dig deep to find any similarities. In fact, neither of these happened at all. Eligible managed to, at once, remain true to both the plot and the personalities of the whole cast of characters, and remain surprising by the way the plot points of the original translated into the modern world.
In this version, journalist Liz and yoga instructor Jane move back home for a few months after Mr Bennet has a heart attack. Mr Chip Bingley is a doctor at the local hospital after a failed stint on ‘Eligible’ (Sittenfeld’s barely-masked version of ‘The Bachelor’). Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is the sexy new-in-town brain surgeon from a family of money but with a complete lack of social etiquette. And so, Pride and Prejudice unravels itself. Each character is familiar and yet new. Everyone has been updated but remain true to who they were originally supposed to be. It makes perfect sense in the 21st century that Mrs Bennet would spend all her time catalogue-shopping in front of reality television; that Kitty and Lydia would be Crossfit lovers and spurn the non-believers; and that Liz wouldn’t want children.
The thing that was handled poorly in this novel, would be the representation. Sittenfeld tried to update this novel by including characters with various sexual/gender/racial identities, and ones dealing with various mental health problems, which is great. Diversity and representation is wonderful, in theory. However, Sittenfeld doesn’t explore or resolve these issues well at all. Under the guise of (particularly) Mrs Bennet’s blatant and overarching ignorance, the non-cis/straight/white characters are underdeveloped, with their diversity often being their only defining characteristic. (view spoiler)
However, I found this book a wonderful, light, hilarious at times holiday read. It was generally well written and I thoroughly enjoyed this new take on things. It was a quick read due to Sittenfeld’s propensity to write in very short chapters (over 180 in this book!), but also due to her wit and charm. Even though I knew how it would all pan out in the end, I found it very hard to put Eligble down.
I received my copy of this novel as part of a Goodreads Giveaway.