Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Spoiler-Free)

Liz Bennet and her sister Jane have returned to their childhood home in Cincinnati to look after their father’s health, not to be pestered by their mother about their non-existant love lives, and rapidly approaching expiration dates – but apparently nobody bothered to inform Mrs. Bennet of that fact… Enter Chip Bingley, wealthy doctor, reality TV star, and on the lookout for love! He’s everything that Mrs. Bennet ever wanted for one of her daughters. But although Jane does like Chip very much, Liz’s feelings are complicated by the presence of his obnoxious, entitled best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Eligible is a novel that brings Pride and Prejudice beautifully into the present day, managing to modernise the storyline without abandoning any of the complexities that gave the original story its charm, but instead updating them to work in a modern setting: The way to fix the Bennets’ financial problems is not simply for one of the daughters to find a wealthy husband, and Liz could never marry even this new version of Mr. Collins (who she’s actually quite fond of), not only because he’s her cousin, but also because she will always think of him as the naked three-year-old that he was when they first met. The way that Sittenfeld interpreted the Wickham episode by breaking it in two I found particularly clever, and while the progress of Liz’s relationship with Jasper Wick was somewhat predictable, the fued between Wick and Darcy had an interesting origin, and I loved the portrayal of Ham Ryan, the second half of Wickham who is heavily involved in Lydia’s character arc.

The writing and pacing are both excellent as well. I found the first few chapters quite slow, but by the time I was around fifty pages in I was completely hooked, and I managed to read the whole book in just a few sittings (and it’s a pretty long book; around 500 pages, with a tiny font and margins). Sittenfeld also side-steps a lot of the common problems with Jane Austen retellings by not even attempting to imitate Austen’s style (something that’s frequently done, even in modernisations, but usually just comes off as contrived), and also by ageing up the main characters from the early twenties to late thirties…

This is a book that I never knew I needed in my life until it was already there, and I’m so glad that I read it! It’s miles better than most of the other best Pride and Prejudice retellings I’ve come across (and I’ve read a lot of them), and interprets Austen’s original tale with wit, originality, and an undated outlook on the world. While it’s far from the best book in the world, it was buckets of fun to read, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for more of Lizzy and Darcy in their life.

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