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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible (edition 2017)

by Curtis Sittenfeld

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1,0549811,449 (3.57)67
Authors:Curtis Sittenfeld
Info:London : the Borough Press, 2017.
Collections:Your library, Finished
Tags:grp-fiction, for-adult, grp-gen, read in 2016

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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld



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My reading list over the past year has included a number of Jane Austen-based books: rereads of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, modern adaptations of Emma (YA, Harlequin, Amish, you name it), fiction about Austen fans, as well as a couple of non-fiction titles. The reason for my recent interest in all things Austen is that I’m working on a modern adaptation of Emma. Thus, when I saw Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, I knew I had to read it too.

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in writing my novel, which has the working title Emma and the City (it’s set in New York) is genre. Should it be “chick lit” or something more serious and literary? Would it be a chaste, vanilla romance, in keeping with Jane Austen’s time period, or more Sex and the City?

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible has both Jane and Elizabeth Bennett living in New York and navigating modern situations and relationships. This particular retelling of Pride and Prejudice would surely give me some ideas for how to deal with the tone of Emma and the City, I thought.

However, what I discovered is that Eligible takes things to another extreme, with the situations surrounding the Bennett family and their adventures in love seeming to get more ridiculous by the minute. Perhaps this was the authors’ intention: to write a spoof, rather than a modern retelling. Or perhaps it’s nearly impossible to update Pride and Prejudice without there being an element of ridiculousness because much of what drove the original story was the fact that the unwed daughters of a man whose estate was entailed—meaning upon his death, his property would pass on to a male heir rather than to his wife and daughters—needed to find husbands, and fast.

These days, no unwed woman of sound mind and mean intelligence in Western society need be destitute if her father leaves her penniless; she can simply go out and get a job. In fact, she probably already has one, and has had one for years.

Likewise, a very young woman— Austen’s Lydia was only 16, Sittenfeld’s a comparatively mature 23— eloping or having the intent to elope is no longer a cause for ruination, social downfall or scandal for herself or her family. Thus, Sittenfeld had to invent a rather unbelievable reason why Mrs. Bennett would disapprove of her youngest daughter’s match and want to stop it from happening.

By the same token, the situation with cousin Willie—Mr. Collins in the original, the man who would inherit the Bennett’s estate after Mr. Bennett’s death—seems a bit preposterous. Were he really a borderline-Asperger's tech genius millionaire, would he really, after one lunch date a few years ago and then a subsequent family reunion, want to go out with his step-cousin, Elizabeth or “Liz”, who lived across the country from him? Or, even more absurd, after a very brief acquaintance over a few text messages, emails and phone calls, decide to invite Liz’s friend, an overweight Charlotte Lucas, to quit her job and move to Silicon Valley, where she knew no one, to become his live-in girlfriend? And, more importantly, that she would agree to it? In Jane Austen’s day, were a woman to marry a relation or practical stranger or someone she didn’t love in order to secure her livelihood, no one would have raised an eyebrow. In Eligible, it begs some head scratching.

Liz’s own relationship with Darcy and their physical intimacy before they even liked and respected each other was, for me, as surprising as it was far-fetched.

There were many other incidences in which I had to suspend belief to keep going: the fact that people worked, but hardly seemed to be working; the amount of cross-country flights Liz seemed to take; the coincidence of Jasper and Darcy knowing each other from Stanford; or how often Liz and Darcy kept coincidentally running into each other.

Eligible culminates with the filming of a reality-show special in which all the members of the Bennett family and the book’s other main characters star. Besides enjoying the description of how the reality show was staged, handled and filmed, I felt the ending redeemed the book. With her over-the-top finale, Sittenfeld acknowledges the ludicrousness of the situations and circumstance the characters find themselves in throughout the book. She has turned the book into a romp, as silly and staged as a reality show. The chapters—there are 181 in a 488-page book—are extremely short, some not more than half a page long, which make the book both compulsively readable and perfect for the low-attention spans of the sound-bite loving reality-show generation. In that sense, one could call Eligible brilliant.

In conclusion, if you’re a fan of reality shows, don’t mind crassness and may or may not be a Jane Austen fan, you have a good chance of enjoying this book. If you want any of the subtlety and elegance of an Austen novel, you might be better off rereading the original. ( )
  AmyHilliges | Sep 3, 2018 |
I received this as an ARC from Net Galley. Thank you!

I absolutely LOVED this book! The humor, the sarcasm, the whole story was wonderful!
Another hit for Ms. Sittenfeld! ( )
  cubsfan3410 | Sep 1, 2018 |
Skip this remake! The side flap summary makes this sound like a decent modernization of Pride and Prejudice and it's all a lie. It wasn't terrible all the way up until Elizabeth becomes dunderhead and hangs tight to Jasper, the cheating plonker despite seeing the ongoing trend of he's not going to divorce his wife. And also, hello? Cheater? There are so many other men out there, why did she have to get hung up on a cheater? Why would she even start a relationship/continue the relationship after finding out?! I just wanted to reach into the book and shake Elizabeth. I don't understand how Jane Austen could write a strong, modern woman back in 1800s and now in the 21st century, Elizabeth has regressed into a...I don't even have words. ( )
  justreign | Jul 30, 2018 |
I guess I am a purist, but this seemed to run counter to everything I loved about Pride and Prejudice. I hated it almost immediately, but I kept thinking "wait for Darcy" and then he came and I was screaming "no, no, no." So, I have closed this book, sent it back to the library from which it was borrowed and promised myself to re-read Pride and Prejudice soon so that I can be cleansed of any memory of this sacrilege.

Note to self: You do not like it when other authors co-op characters from literature. Try to remember that in future. ( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Eligible since is a modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. So, of course, I had to read it.

"Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife."

Said Chip had been on the television reality show Eligible, hoping to find love, and broke all the girls' hearts by marrying none of them. His Hollywood career over, he went back to practice medicine in a new town.

For Mrs. Bennet, Chip's arrival in Cincinnati was perfect timing. The two eldest Bennet daughters, Jane nearly forty and Liz not far behind, were returning home to help out after Mr. Bennet's coronary artery bypass surgery. After all, Mrs. Bennet couldn't handle an invalid AND chair the Women's League fundraising luncheon. As far as Mrs. Bennet was concerned, having a medical man in the family would be a perk.

Only Liz knows that Jane opted for artificial insemination after the break up of her last relationship. Liz writes for a magazine and has no plans for children. But she has been in love with her 'best friend' Jasper Wick for years, although they never became a 'couple' until after Jasper's married. Fourteen years Liz waited for him to realize they were meant for each other. Jasper had no intention of divorcing his wife, so Liz becomes his 'best friend' with benefits.

Liz soon discovers not only mom but dear old dad needs 'handling,' beginning with mom's shopping addiction and the huge medical bills piling up because dad was uninsured. Living at home still are Mary, in graduate school, and freeloaders Kitty and Lydia, in their early twenties.

The Bennet family are invited to the Lucas's house to meet Chip, where, of course, his friend Darcy snubs Liz. Meanwhile, 'cousin Willie' has made millions and shows up looking for a wife, and a snarky Caroline Bingley warns Liz off.

You know the story--just not this version of the story. Everything is updated: the daughter's ages, their sex lives, and the problems they face are very 21st c. Racism, sexual orientation, transgender issues, and the artificial reality of television make appearances.

It is a very funny novel, and overall a very clever updating of Austen. I especially loved Sittenfeld's version of Mr. Bennet.

"I don't suppose that any of you can appreciate the terror a man might feel being so outnumbered," Mr. Bennet said. "I often weep, and there are only six of you."

I thought the updated scene of Liz trying to get to an ailing Jane was handled well; in the original, Liz walks through dirty lanes and fields, arriving in most unfashionable condition. Sittenfeld has Liz jog across town, arriving drenched in sweat. Each version of Liz shows how she places family bonds above social approbation, and in each she proves herself to be healthy, active, fit, and glowing.

Showing my age, and early monogamy, it was discomforting to read about all the premarital sex going on. All the sexual tension between Darcy and Elizabeth? I sure missed that. And where Austen's Liz has her own pride, Sittenfeld's Liz is a terrible drunk. Not my favorite handling of this character.

Eligible also misses the darker side of Austen: the soldier's camp gathered because of the looming war with France, Liz's challenge to the social hierarchy by not kowtowing to her social superiors, the church held in thrall by those who hold the living to the point of the Rev. Mr. Collins being instructed on what to preach. And Wick is an almost comic philanderer, Liz willing to settle for his terms, when Wickham was a seducer of a young heiress, a liar, a gambler, and an gold-digging opportunist--very evil qualities in Austen's day.

But I applaud Sittenfeld's novel for picking up on Austen's witty social jabs and the bright and sparkling aspect of the original.

I obtained a copy of the book through my local public library. ( )
1 vote nancyadair | Apr 22, 2018 |
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For Samuel Park, Austen devotee and beloved friend
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WELL BEFORE HIS arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.
"Everything tends toward entropy, my dear. It's the second law of thermodynamics."
"Do you ever pass up a chance to use a big word?" Lydia replied. "Or do you find that circumlocution always magnifies life's conviviality?"
"Stop quarreling, girls," Mrs. Bennet said. "It's unbecoming." ¶ "They'd never speak to one another otherwise," Mr. Bennet said.
Mr. Bennet stood, dropping his napkin on the table. "As interesting as I find this conversation, an urgent matter has come up. I need a hamburger." ¶ Simultaneously, Liz said, "Dad, you can't drive," and Jane said, "Dad, you can't eat red meat." ¶ Mr. Bennet gestured toward his plate, atop which sat moderate portions of lentil stew prepared by Jane and salad prepared by Liz. "This is unacceptable," he said. "I'm not a small woodland creature. Lizzy, we're going to Zip's."
"If your mother and I lived somewhere smaller, we might have to actually see each other."
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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.… (more)

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