A satirical book: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Why I picked it: So I had originally planned to read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for this category; however, I don’t actually know where my copy walked off to and my general attitude towards these challenges is to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law (this is not the first time I’ve been generous in matching a book with one of the challenge categories). As I said before, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites. I’m far from an Austen purist, and I love reading/watching others’ interpretations of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story (from Pemberley Digital’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), so adding this to my TBR (and squeezing it in as a satire) was a no-brainer.
Blurb in brief: “A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century. 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.”
What I thought: Sittenfeld did a fantastic job of modernizing aspects of Pride and Prejudice in a way that felt true to the social satire of Austen’s original work—making Kitty and Lydia into CrossFit junkies and Bingley into a former Bachelor (and the one most remembered for sobbing during the finale of his Eligible season) was brilliant. In fact, I found the modernization of most of the characters to be creatively spot-on. Liz as a magazine writer and Darcy as a monied neurosurgeon were probably the most uninspired translations in that they seemed like the obvious choices.
Parts of the narrative felt clunky, as though Sittenfeld was trying too hard to stick with Austen’s original dialogue; the first Darcy proposal scene felt a little forced, as did the Collins proposal/proposition scene, though part of the awkwardness could definitely be attributed to the social awkwardness of both characters.
I guess it’s a hallmark of a Sittenfeld book (for me, at least), that even though I quite like the story and the writing is good, I always feel a little icky reading her work. She has an off-putting knack for writing heroines who are flawed and sometimes not even likable—a kind of anti-Mary Sue. Sittenfeld’s Liz lacks the charm and warmth of Austen’s Lizzy, which I missed. Liz feels a lot more realistic in today’s world though, as much as it may make me uncomfortable to admit it.
My rating: 4/5; Goodreads rating: 3.80/5