Eligible is American author Curtis Sittenfeld’s re-telling of that much loved classic Pride and Prejudice. To take on a work, any work of Jane Austen (even when commissioned to do so, as part of the Austen Project) is one brave thing to do, and inevitably, for every two people who liked Eligible, four others howled “Sacrilege!”
Sittenfeld has said, “ I see Pride and Prejudice as a perfect book. And Eligible is a homage.” It’s a good job, actually. Read on to find out why I think so.
1. Let me start with the nuts and bolts of the novel. Loved its plot and steady pace throughout.
2. The contemporary connect was deft. Jane a yoga teacher, Liz a journalist at a women`s mag named Mascara, no less, Mary a pseudo bookish sort with a secret (hilarious) pash, Lydia and Kitty your average young vulgarians, the former with hidden depths, though; Darcy a snooty neurosurgeon, Bingley, the man who cries at the drop of a hanky, the eligible bachelor of the reality show called …Eligible!
3. The fact that Sittenfeld hewed so close to the original story. Here’s Mr Bennet (mordant humour intact) on the topic of children: Plenty of men don’t want children. I`m still not sure that I do.
4. Sentences like this: The Bennets’ antipathy for one another was of such an intimate variety it was almost like affection.
5. Chapter 154 (most of the chapters are very brief, in case your eyebrows have shot up). Just read it.
6. That Liz runs in turquoise-and- orange shoes, that Liz falls back on a quote from MK Gandhi when feeling particularly philosophical, that Liz professes a fondness for sag paneer and samosas. That Liz was struck, as she occasionally was during a third glass of wine, by how cute she looked in the mirror.
7. Sentences like this: Liz, trying to dissuade Mrs B from doing something harebrained. Mrs B: it’s worth a try. You just never know. No, said Liz. That’s not true. Sometimes you do know.
8. That Liz (well, she is the heroine of the book) googles Darcy’s worth when she realises just what a seriously wealthy man he is. Then thinks, she didn’t consciously yearn to be the mistress of a place like Pemberley but the wealth it implied was astonishing indeed.
9. Sentences like this: she stepped in and hugged her loathsome charming younger sister.
10. The fact that the story ends with Mary doing what she likes best to do!
So. Are there any flies in this smooth unguent? Oh, quite a few. Sittenfeld has kept it all frothy and light, maybe too light, even while touching on heartbreak, artificial insemination, transgender relationships, racism, sexism, etc. Also, was the ghost of the great Austen looking continuously over the author’s shoulder while she wrote this book? Because while the romance between the haughty-hot, supercilious-sexy Darcy and our cute- as-a button and bright to go with it Liz Bennet, involving as it does quite a bit of hate sex and a stray description or two of his good looks and sculpted body, warms the cockles of our heart, it does not set the pages on fire, alas. Then, just about every character apart from Liz is just that bit cardboard.
Nevertheless, a fun read. There’s a bit in there where some character praises `pleasure reading.’ That’s what Eligible is, pleasure reading, actually.
Sheila Kumar is an independent writer and manuscript editor, as well as author of a collection of short stories titled Kith and Kin, Chronicles of a Clan (Rupa Publications). She blogs at bindersfullawords.blogspot.com, themelekatbook.blogspot.com and bindersfulla.blogspot.com