Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

By Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Pastiches on Austen novels number into the hundreds in film and literature. They usually range from terrible to not too bad with a few real gems. This one is 4 stars. Would have been 5 but for a too drawn-out tacked-on ending. The book could have been 75 pages shorter. Eligible is a very clever, and funny homage to Pride and Prejudice set 2013. Elizabeth is a 38-year-old journalist, who along with her sister Jane, a mellow, sentimental, kind-hearted yoga instructor whose biological clock is ticking, goes home to her Cincinnati home to make sure her caustic, cynical, but lazy ivory tower father is cared for after his heart attack. God knows, the rest of their family would probably kill him with their incompetency and neglect. Lydia and Kitty still live at home though in their 20’s, supported by what’s left of their inherited money, which Mr. and the shopping-addicted Mrs. Bennet have frittered away over the years. Mr. Bennet’s medical bills have thrown the Bennets to the brink of bankruptcy. The 2 girls are idle, though beautiful and toned due their dedication to CrossFit. They are potty-mouthed and have no filters. Mary is an unpleasant recluse, and working on her 3rd master’s degree, with no thought to getting a real job and becoming self-supporting.
The book parallels the original as well as it possibly could, although does get off track towards the end. Part of the pleasure of this book was anticipating what Curtis would do with characters and situations that you knew were coming. It mirrors the overall tone and diction of the original as well. When it went astray was when she diverged too far from the Austen story when the family went west to film their parts in the reality series.
Lady Catharine de Bourgh has no relation to Darcy in this one but is a lauded 80-year-old feminist icon, Kathy, whom Elizabeth seeks to interview throughout much of the book. Her character is a surprise. Think Gloria Steinem. Georgy is a Stanford student: sheltered, shy, and anorexic. “Chip” Bingley is a doctor by profession, but seems to gravitate towards reality TV stardom (The Bachelor) as he is really a bit of a dim-bulb. He would rather try to parlay his fame into a medical TV talk show than actually be a doctor. His friend, Darcy, is an old-money renowned San Francisco surgeon in Cincinnati to head a new brain surgery facility. Elizabeth’s long-time toxic (married) boyfriend of 25 years is Jasper Witt, whose dirty secrets are ultimately exposed by his fellow Stanford schoolmate, Darcy. Everyone is there, plus some fresh new characters, but with a modern spin. They are so well-realized, and sometimes so out of the box and witty, that the book actually gives fresh insights into Austen’s original characters. Some plot and character threads proceed as expected, some take some unlooked-for twists and turns. By the end, Elizabeth sorts out her family’s financial problems and all of the sisters are happily pared off and standing on their own two feet, including Mary. Except she prefers bowling to romance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 23, 2016

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