By: Curtis Sittenfeld
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
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’ve been fairly wary of retellings of familiar classics like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice but I’ve heard fairly good reviews of this book and the modernisation in this retelling sounds intriguing so I picked it up.
Okay, so things I liked about the book: the humour. The back and forth, crazy dialogue amongst 6 sisters, an overbearing and exaggerated mother, and an exasperated father just cracked me up, especially from Mr. Bennet who was clearly done with everything. I also thought the author did a good job in re-imagining what it would be like if you set P&P in a contemporary setting–What jobs would Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley hold? What would be interesting Kitty and Lydia? What contemporary challenges would Lizzie and Jane face in finding love?–but the familiar plot points of P&P are still there. Age, work, marriage/children, class, even race make an appearance in some form or the other over the course of this novel, modernising the story.
As I was reading the book, and the further along the story I go, I found myself growing more and more annoying with Liz and eventually with the Bennets. I wasn’t charmed by Liz’s forthrightness and sense of independence, somewhere along the way she was just straight up standoffish despite obviously standing out from her Cincinnati society. I don’t have sisters but I understand it can be chaotic when there’s six of them with distinct personalities but I found it hard to believe that they would even like each other, some of the snarkiness was coming out as disdain. It’s like all of the worst traits we know of the Bennets was highlighted x10 in this modernisation that I can see why Mr. Darcy would want to steer clear of them. If it wasn’t for the thing that threw Liz and Darcy together, I don’t think he would’ve considered her at all. And honestly Mr. Darcy himself seemed like a shadow of the original character; he had all of the elements that made him Mr. Darcy but for some reason he lacked that certain spark that made his presence truly known in the story.
So in the end my experience of reading Eligible was mixed. It was amusing and the modernisation of the story was interesting to read, but I was quite happy to close the book when I was done and leave the Bennets behind *shrugs*