Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

There’s pride, there’s prejudice, and there’s also text break-ups, reality tv, ‘hate sex’, Bitcoin, jogging, and Ivy League schools in Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s fabulous, frothy take on the Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice.

The brilliance in Sittenfeld’s rendering of Pride is that she stayed absolutely true to the story (a ridiculous social-climber plots to marry-off her five daughters to suitable, wealthy men), and yet made it very much her own.

All five  girls had then gone on to private colleges before embarking on what could euphemistically be called non-lucrative careers, though in the case of some sisters, non-lucrative non-careers was a more precise descriptor.

The story is set in Cincinnati (Sittenfeld’s hometown) and we find Liz as a magazine journalist; Jane, a yoga instructor; Mary doing her third online masters degree; and Kitty and Lydia gadding about eating high-protein meals and attending CrossFit.

The endearing elements of Pride – the ridiculousness of Mrs Bennett; the parrying between Darcy and Liz; the insightful, ever-polite snipes – are still there. Darcy is updated as a neurosurgeon and Mr Bingley (Chip) is fresh from appearing on ‘Eligible’, a ‘Bachelor’-like reality tv show (which everyone claims not to watch).

“Did you really never watch Eligible when Chip was on?”
“She’s never watched any of Eligible,” Liz said. “She’s like a unicorn.”
“Oh, Chip’s season was fantastic,” Charlotte said. “There was an actual physical fight involving ripped-out hair extensions.”

The lessons in love are updated but unchanged – Liz, interviewing a prominent feminist (a reimagined Lady Catherine de Bourgh), is told “There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.”

Likewise, Sittenfeld doesn’t shy away from updating the ‘prejudice’ elements of the story, taking jabs at the hypocrisy and absurdity inherent in our current ‘politically correct’ society –

…if Liz had learned that anybody in her social circle in New York had eloped with someone transgender, she’d have greeted the news with support; she might have even felt that self-congratulatory pride that heterosexual white people are known to experience due to proximate diversity.

Some Austen fans will detest this book (it’s vulgar! It’s all too obvious!) but keep in mind that it’s not intended to replace Pride, or better it – I’m sure Sittenfeld is happy to leave the one-upmanship to Mrs Bennett. I thoroughly enjoyed Eligible for what it was – light and entertaining.

4/5 Delightful fluff.

I received my copy of Eligible from the publisher, Random House, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Note that Eligible is part of The Austen Project, in which 21st-century authors retell Austen’s novels in a contemporary setting.

There was only one thing for Eligible – a ‘4-Way’ from what I understand is a Cincinnati institution, Skyline Chili. It’s spaghetti covered with chili, cheese and onions or beans.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 28): Belfast 12°-18° and Melbourne 9°-14°.

15 responses

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  2. I think I know what’s going to be in YOUR Six Degrees tomorrow then, Kate.

    I’m afraid, though, I’m not convinced. I don’t think all Austen fans will hate it because it’s vulgar or too obvious but because it’s not “true” to their understanding of the characters. However, I haven’t read it so can’t comment. One modern reimagining we Austen fans pretty much all like is Clueless. That’s pretty obvious, but it captures the sense of Emma very well. My listening around the traps is that people don’t feel Sittenfeld has achieved this – but, you never know, maybe Eligible will bring a new young cohort to Austen, and that wouldn’t be bad!

  3. It’s always Skyline Time! Great post and hopefully you’ll get to try it! One right down the street here. I wasn’t going to read this because I didn’t like the other two in the re-telling series that I’ve already read, but just maybe…..good post!

  4. I don’t mind engaging with the modern Austen industry. Bride & Prejudice is my favourite and I’ve recently read Mr Darcy’s Daughters. You don’t mention Mr Bennett who I think is central to P&P in his quiet way, but my favourite character is Lydia. My spinoff would have her on her third husband and living in the colonies.

  5. I’m sure this will appeal to lots of people and maybe some will go o n to read Austen’s original. But I do wish authors stopped doing these reimaginings and came up with their own ideas.

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