July 25, 2017

Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Random House
Length: 512 pages
Published: April 19, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible tackles gender, class, courtship, and family as Curtis Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

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."


Quote:

"Sometimes it amazes me how much these defining parts of our lives hinge on chance."

Excerpt: (from Chapter One)

"Well before his arrival in Cincinatti, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife. Two years earlier, Chip--a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School, scion of the Pennsylvania Bingleys, who in the twentieth century had made their fortune in plumbing fixtures--had, ostensibly with some reluctance, appeared on the juggernaut reality-television show Eligible. Over the course of eight weeks in the fall of 2011, twenty-five single women had lived together in a mansion in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and vied for Chip's heart: accompanying him on dates to play blackjack in Las Vegas and taste wine at vineyards in Napa Valley, fighting with and besmirching one another in and out of his presence. At the end of each episode, every woman received either a kiss on the lips from him, which meant she would continue to compete, or a kiss on the cheek, which meant she had to return home immediately. In the final episode, with only two women remaining--Kara, a wide-eyed, blond-ringleted twenty-three-year-old former college cheerleader turned second-grade teacher from Jackson, Mississippi, and Marcy, a duplicitous yet alluring brunette twenty-eight-year-old dental hygienist from Morristown, New Jersey--Chip wept profusely and declined to propose marriage to either. They both were extraordinary, he declared, stunning and intelligent and sophisticated, but toward neither did he feel what he termed 'a soul connection.' In compliance with FCC regulations, Marcy's subsequent tirade consisted primarily of bleeped-out words that nevertheless did little to conceal her rage.

'It's not because he was on that silly show that I want him to meet our girls,' Mrs. Bennet told her husband over breakfast on a morning in late June. The Bennets lived on Grandin Road, in a sprawling eight-bedroom Tudor in Cincinnati's Hyde Park neighborhood. 'I never even saw it. But he went to Harvard Medical School, you know.'

'So you've mentioned,' said Mr. Bennet.

'After all we've been through, I wouldn't mind a doctor in the family,' Mrs. Bennet said. 'Call that self-serving if you like, but I'd say it's smart.'

'Self-serving?' Mr. Bennet repeated. 'You?'"


My Book Review: 

I'm sad to report that I found this contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice disappointing.

The first third of the novel is bit interesting as the author, Curtis Sittenfeld, recasts Jane Austen's characters in modern-day Cincinnati. Bingley is the former star of a reality TV dating show, but after failing to choose a match he's back on the market. Mrs. Bennet remains the same--focused on marrying off her daughters--but Liz comes across as far more unlikable than her original counterpart. The relationship between Liz and Jane feels more strained, Mr. Bennet is distant, indolent, and at times cruel (an accurate portrayal), and the younger Bennet girls are flippant, worldly, and vacuous as is expected.

After the story's characters and setting have been established, the narrative is certainly readable but I felt the romance, wit, and likability of the retelling were missing. Just a small part of the original story's success is its ability to portray Elizabeth and Darcy as complicated, conceited, and yet truly enjoyable and relatable characters: I found I did not like nor root for anyone within Eligible; Messes seemed to be of the characters' own making and the romantic relationships felt empty and shallow.

The story takes cruder turns and for me consequently fell short of the mastery achieved in the original tale. Retelling classics is always a risk and yet appeals to editors and writers who know it will sell well given Jane Austen's lasting legacy.



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