A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice
By: Curtis Sittenfeld
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
PRHA/Random House Audio
Genre: Fiction – Literary
Release Date: April 19, 2016
13 Hours and 30 Minutes
Audiofile provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. 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.
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.
Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.
With so many Jane Austen mash ups and mix ups out there I figured I would give this one a cursory listen. I have two other P & P based books on my Kindle right now and one is firmly mired into the DNF file and the other is languishing in the Have not Decided pile. There are probably others on the e-reader that just haven’t announced themselves as Austen-based.
But, Sittenfeld is a respected author and I enjoyed her first book, PREP when it first hit the shelf. Parts of it have stuck in my head after many years and so I decided to give this a go. I am so glad I did! Sittenfeld totally nails it!
Cassandra Campbell, the narrator is amazing in this read. She hits all the nails on their heads, and even more, does the PERFECT Jane. It took me right back to A & E’s Jane Bennet. No, she doesn’t affect an English accent, since the story takes place in Cincinnati, but she gives Jane that soft, kind voice that I loved from the nearly ancient A & E video. The other characters are all well done too.
But all the narration in the world wouldn’t work if THIS BOOK were not GOLDEN.
I can understand why authors would want to write an Austen-based novel, either in modern terms or a continuation. After all, I first fell in love with Austen for so many reasons, but the first was Austen’s characters who I saw in all the people I knew from Mary to Lady CdB. And, the understanding of how dislike can become love, how first impressions are misleading is also universal to humans across time and not just Regency period British turns, P&P in particular, into an archetype. So, when looking at the world today it is pretty easy to see why a Jane Austen story would take root in a writer’s mind.
What Sittenfeld does so very well, and where other writers often fail, is the translation to present day mores and behavior. If you take away the taboo against pre-marital sex, how do you make a big deal over Georgie’s abduction or Lydia’s irreverence? If there is no such thing as the entail on the Bennet estate, what’s to worry about marrying off your child to your husband’s heir so you may remain at home when your husband leaves you a widow? And, how do you make the daughters useless waifs without the prohibition against women of a particular station having jobs?
An example that doesn’t give away the plot is her translation of the vicar, Stephen Collins into a less obnoxious but still not the man Lizzy wants to marry character? Since in this world, there is a prohibition against cousins marrying, that becomes an issue for Lizzy. Also, that he is a socially off-putting computer wiz-kid. Even though they are not cousins, the feeling of him being a cousin is more than enough.
Sittenfeld’s genius is taking the essential of each character and storyline and making it absolutely map to the present day. In the original, Lizzy is the sensible daughter: thoughtful, pretty, industrious, well-spoken and well-read. She is still naive in her recognition of a scoundrel though. Is she the same here? Her role as the “sensible” Bennet is secure. In the original, Jane is the ideal Regency era beauty: soft, pretty and perhaps a little dull. This Jane, a yoga instructor, is more interesting but still meets that ideal in her softness and simplicity. Instead of walking to allay what I have always thought must have been a boring way to live, Lizzy and Jane are runners.
Bingley and Darcy still have family fortunes and are now the grand-prize of professions in Mrs. Bennet’s material girl mind: Doctors. I was thinking, “why not make them hedge-fund managers?” But then I realized that would probably be the equivalent of the nobility wealth-wise.
I don;t want to analyse each of the characters, plot points and evaluate their perfect translation into today’s world. While the translation is not one to one — Sittenfeld’s Lady CdB is very different, but still throws the issues Lizzy faces into stark relief — it is still perfect.
I absolutely fell in love with this well-executed retelling of the story. It makes Austen’s novel more salient to today’s reading public. Where we would have a hard time grasping the concept of the entail today, it’s easier to relate to insolvency/bankruptcy/lack of insurance as problems many people born in the last century see happening to their parents today. Young women no longer live at home until they are married because of a societal taboo on women living on their own and how Sittendfeld solves this particular point is just delicious as is how the whole Lydia issue works out.
You must, therefore, allow me to tell you how much I ardently love and admire this book. It made me fall in love with Jane Austen all over again. In my mind it is an absolute MUST READ! Unless, of course you don’t get the stuff in italics above. If that is the case do yourself a favor and read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and then read ELIGIBLE!