Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Publisher: Random House
Published: April 2016
Genre: adult fiction, contemporary
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.
Liz travels back with her sister Jane to Cincinnati after their dad, Mr. Bennet, suffers a heart attack. They say they’ll only stay as long as he needs them, but the sisters find the house is falling apart — and their younger sisters are in dire need of some life coaching. When cousin Willie comes to town and the Lucas family hosts a barbeque, Liz and Jane run into doctors Fitzwilliam Darcy and Chip Bingley. Little do they know, this dinner party changes the course of their lives.
Of all the Jane Austen Project books so far, this one is the best. All the key characters and scenes are there — the bare bones of Pride & Prejudice — and Sittenfeld seamlessly uses those elements in a modern setting, rather than trying to squeeze modern life inside an Austen novel. The classic humor is there, the personalities of the characters, everything. Of course Mary would be the snarky, multi-degreed student holed away in her parents’ house. Of course Jane would be a calm yoga instructor. Of course Bingley would be on a reality show, and Mrs. Bennet a shopaholic, and Willie a Silicon Valley nerd. Social media plays a huge role in the novel as well, and it works. This book was written so cleverly to properly match modern time, it didn’t feel like a forced retelling of Pride & Prejudice.
While Eligible is a retelling of an Austen classic, it’s also a character study. Liz is a fantastic journalist, critiques her family and deeply loves them at the same time, and is (hilariously) clueless with men. She’s intelligent and confident, but her weaknesses are relatable as well. There are some parallels with the classic Elizabeth Bennet, but Liz can stand on her own.
I’m sure you’ve read the reviews and seen the hype by now. Trust in it. Eligible is worth a read.