Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible

This novel is a very modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which I have never read but seem to have absorbed through osmosis. Curtis Sittenfeld is an excellent writer who combines a subtle and impressive style with a sharp eye for plotting (see also Prep and American Wife, and there is a real sense of joy and humor fused in the book.

Austen’s cast of characters are relocated to Cincinnati, New York, and the Bay area of California. One guy is the star of a reality show, “Eligible,” which sounds a lot like “The Bachelor.” The characters engage in modern behaviors such as texting each other, drinking too much, and careening towards one another with witty banter and sexual tension.

I found the actual romantic portions of the book very predictable and mostly uninteresting — the eventual pairings seemed inevitable all along, but I had to remind myself that this was Jane Austen, the ur-text of romance. I was much more engrossed in the financial woes of the feckless Bennet family and the heroine’s efforts to drag them, en masse, to solvency.

This was a speedy read that I found surprisingly enjoyable. I grabbed the original Pride and Prejudice from the library and may tackle that next, in an act of literary reverse-engineering. Skimming through the book now, and seeing how Sittenfeld’s reality-show lug Chip Bingley was originally the august-sounding “Mr Bingley” in Austen’s own hand, hints at what both writers have accomplished.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2016

Summer reading book prize.

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