It is a truth universally acknowledged that any novel based on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen will succeed in winning over certain readers. Don’t get me wrong – there is definitely a spectrum of re-tellings. Some are good, some are bad, some are just ridiculous. But Austen did the world a favour when she created Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and their story continues to captivate us as it gets told again and again (and again and again and again). But somehow I’m not sick of it – in fact, especially in the case of Curtis Sittenfeld’s re-telling, I kind of never want to stop reading it. Love the characters. Love the plot. LOVE Sittenfeld’s sense of humour and respect / appreciation for the story in her modernization.
In ‘Eligible’, the characters of Lizzy and Jane Bennett are bumped up in age, to make their mother’s distress over their lack of husbands a little more believable by today’s standards, but the basic conflict stays true to Austen’s original: a handsome bachelor moves to town with his equally attractive friend and the pressure is on for the single ladies to make a desirable match. In this scenario, the bachelor is literally The Bachelor – Chip Bingley moves to Cincinnati fresh from his stint as the star of a reality show called ‘Eligible’, where female contestants compete to be his bride. But the show was a bust – he came out still single, unable to make the ultimate choice when it came down to the season finale. He moves to town with his friend Darcy, a moody surgeon whose rude comments do not go unnoticed when he crosses paths with Lizzy, Jane and the rest of the Bennets at a neighbourhood BBQ. Jane and Chip begin to fall for each other, and Lizzy finds herself increasingly drawn to a man she knows isn’t right for her. Sexiness ensues.
This book is compulsively readable. It might be the fact that I was familiar with the story and therefore didn’t need to think too hard or stress too much over what would happen next, but something about the experience of reading it just completely relaxed me. It took me entirely out of my surroundings, to the point where I actually rode the subway past my stop. But beyond the familiar story, I think Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing is what really captured my attention as a reader – she possesses that rare talent of being brilliant without being ‘in-your-face’ brilliant. You can read this book for the sake of reading – you don’t need to step back and appreciate certain passages or certain descriptions for their language, you can just experience it and then later realize that you have been literally living in a world that Sittenfeld wrote. It’s impressive.
I also admire the choices she made in the narrative for what to change and what to keep. The skeleton of the story and all of the most essential pieces are there, which is so important, because only a fool would try and improve on the perfection of Jane Austen, but she also recognizes the necessity of updates for the modern reader. To set the story in today’s world requires changes in order to remain legitimate and relatable, and in those changes she reveals her skill as a storyteller. Without giving too much away, the character of Jasper captures a modern ‘type’ that Sex and the City viewers, not to mention women of the world in general, are all too familiar with. And the choice to split Lydia’s storyline off and introduce Ham into the mix was, in my opinion, extremely smart and much more satisfying than sticking to the original course of events.
On a technical level, I am really loving the recent trend towards short chapters. It is probably a product of our social media society, where our attention spans are shorter and we don’t have the patience to scan more than 140 characters before scrolling on, but I find it much easier to get pulled into a story that is split into concise chunks, rather than never-ending blocks of text. Ironically I find that I usually read more in one sitting when I can see the end of a chapter ahead of me – it makes it that much easier to say “just one more…” which inevitably turns into nine more, and then I’ve finished the book.
And on that note, I’ll wrap this up, but I would highly recommend this book to anyone in search of a light, funny, familiar love story. You won’t be disappointed.
And because my life is awesome, click below to see a video of me interviewing Curtis Sittenfeld: