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.
I know, I know–I’m a total sucker for Jane Austen remakes. It’s like a compulsion. Even though P&P isn’t my favorite of hers (hello, Persuasion!) I do love it, and I seem to be particularly drawn to its modern interpretations (Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Epic Fail; I could go on and on and on, but that’s not the point of this review.) It was pretty much a forgone conclusion that I was going to read Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, even if the publisher wouldn’t approve my request on Edelweiss. (They didn’t say no, for the record–they just ignored my request.)
Anyway. I waited until it came out and picked up the audiobook instead with an Audible credit.
There were things I liked a lot in this one–that Darcy is a brain surgeon, for one, and the way in which the reality TV dating show “Eligible” was used to move the plot along (and LOL to Lydia’s observation–“It’s called reality TV. It’s not called true TV.” True that, sister.) It made sense to me that if the threat of “spinsterdom” was going to be played up, that the sisters would need to be older than in the original (Jane turns 40, Liz is 38). Even though her role is absolutely nothing like the one in any other P&P version anywhere–including (especially?) the original, I did like this version of Catherine De Bourgh the character. (Though why does she have absolutely no connection to Darcy at all in this rendition? It was like the author just wanted to get her name in there somewhere and that’s how she did it. Odd.) Ms. Sittenfeld did a nice job of showing Bingley’s chronic indecisiveness, and the ending of Lizzie and Darcy’s part of the story was absolutely delightful.
Then there were the things that bothered me–Lydia’s crisis, for one, did not at all have the urgency or impact of the original version. It pretty much left me with a “that’s it?” impression. Ditto the event that put Darcy and the Wickham-type character at odds with each other. Don’t get me wrong, what Jasper does isn’t nice, and he definitely deserved the consequences he received, but the oomph of the original transgression? It’s not there at all. (And why is he called Jasper Wick when pretty much everybody else keeps their whole names from the original–even poor Fitzwilliam? And don’t get me started on Bingley’s first name–Chip. Chip.) A text from Darcy’s sister Georgiana causes Liz some heartache at one point, and I’m still not sure what Georgie meant by one part of it (the bit about feeling awkward about their conversation)–I get what the text’s role in the plot was, but what Georgie really was trying to say there? I have no idea.
Plus. I’m still not sure how I feel about Lizzie and Darcy engaging in “hate sex”.
A whole lot of issues were thrown at us throughout the book–interracial dating, transgender issues, feminism, bigotry, antisemitism, racism (and whatever the proper label would be for Mary’s sexual identity; I think I know what it is, but don’t want to spoil anything here)–that felt more as if they were there just for the sake of being trendy and modern than because they were needed for the sake of the plot and story. And the incredibly short chapters as the book went on? I felt like I was reading a James Patterson novel.
Although the vocabulary definitely wasn’t JP-worthy. There were many TingoEd vocabulary video alums (“supercilious” is one that sticks out, probably because I used that video in my classes. A lot. Check it out, it’s entertaining), and quite a few other words that probably should have videos on that channel. At times it kind of felt like I was reading a book that wanted to advertise itself as a SAT or GRE vocabulary-prep text.
Sometimes it’s really okay to use the simpler words, even when you have an impressive vocabulary.
So…was it worth the read? Yes, I think so. Overall I did enjoy it. It *is* P&P, after all. And Charlotte did not get turned into a zombie, which can’t be seen as anything but a plus in my book. Will I read another book by the author? Maybe. The jury’s still out on that one.
The narrator did a good job with the audio–she has a pleasing voice, did a decent differentiation for male vs female characters, and the flow was good. I don’t think I’ve listened to anything else by the narrator, but I definitely would in the future.
I struggled with rating this one–at times it was am absolute 3 stars, occasionally it veered into 4 territory, and some things that bothered me initially did so less as time went on, so…I think we’re left with a solid 3 1/2 stars.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars / C+