Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Where to buy: Barnes & Noble link
Despite the press surrounding Eligible, it might be best to forget that it is supposed to be an update of Pride and Prejudice. Curtis Sittenfeld is a good writer, but she is no Jane Austen. It is unfortunate that the connection between the novels forces the reader to compare them. Where Austen’s novel is light, bright, and sparkling, Eligible is too long and has a heroine who thinks she is more witty and clever than she actually is. The modern-day Darcy comments on this latter point, that Liz Bennet thinks she’s funnier than she is, and that is a problem.
In Eligible, Liz Bennet is a journalist. The charm of Pride and Prejudice is that the heroine is confident and smart, but she is young enough that she still has a lot to learn about herself. Instead, we have a heroine in her late thirties who accepts that, although she is dating a married man, it is excusable because his marriage is supposedly over. He and his wife are staying together for the sake of his wife’s mother who would disinherit them if they divorced. Liz is completely taken in by this excuse. Jane Austen’s clever and intelligent heroine would never have fallen for something so preposterous.
Jane is a yoga instructor, living off of her family’s money, and is trying to have a baby through anonymous donation. I wasn’t completely convinced that ever-optimistic and kind Jane would have given up hope of finding someone she loved or a career that could pay the bills. Bingley is a doctor and reality TV star on a show called Eligible that is like The Bachelor. Yes, Bingley is a big pushover in the original, and perhaps he could be talked into reality TV (surely Darcy would convince him not to do it?), but, by the end, even Jane is talked into it, which seems wrong.
Jasper, our Wickham, is a journalist just like Liz, but it is never quite clear what Liz sees in him. He is not charming enough. It was difficult, as a reader, to care about him at all, and part of what made Wickham so dastardly in the original was that he was initially likable and believable. Instead, in Sittenfeld’s version, the reader can only wait impatiently until Liz realizes she is just wasting her time with him.
Liz’s relationship with Darcy is just as unsatisfying. Liz and Darcy, a doctor who works long hours, start a physical relationship purely because they hate each other. I have seen some other reviewers cheer on this development, but to me it screams very awkward plot device. The scene that mirrors Darcy’s first proposal feels hollow. I do not understand what Darcy sees in Liz, besides physical attraction. Why she eventually falls for Darcy is more obvious, but it does not make sense for Liz to hate him as much as she does. Darcy’s moment where he redeems himself in helping Lydia feels unnecessary and strange, and Lydia certainly is not grateful for it.
Even Jane and Liz do not seem as close. Couldn’t Liz have talked Jane out of doing a ridiculous reality TV wedding? And I won’t even get into the drama involving the rest of the Bennets who occupy a run-down mansion in Cincinnati.
Added to all of the faults is the fact that this book is twice as long, page-wise, as my paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice. The writing isn’t bad, so it’s a shame that the plot is so convoluted and tries so hard to follow the original. I hope that the last two novels of the Austen Project will keep with the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels rather than trying to tediously update each and every single plot point.