Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Publisher Advance Copy)
It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged, that there are myriad ways to find love in the 21st century. Mrs Bennett may still take some convincing, but over the course of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, the modern Bennett girls of Cincinnati discover that love and happiness come in many forms.
There have been several modern reboots of Pride and Prejudice in the last decade, notably Bridget Jones, Bride and Prejudice and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I have found each enjoyable for it’s creator’s reshaping of a classic story. For the reader, there is a certain glee in knowing the ins and outs of the story, but not the particulars. I always appreciate the slow reveal as everything comes together and the particulars in Eligible are particularly well done.
Enter Longbourn as a neglected, cluttered mock-tudor mansion on one of Cincinnati’s best streets. Elizabeth is a 38 year old journalist and Jane a 40 year old yoga instructor, both home from a decade in New York to help out with the family after Mr Bennett has a health scare. Mr Collins is a start-up millionaire. Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with Cross Fit and Paleo diets. Mary is completing her third online masters degree and Mrs Bennet has a shopping addiction. Bingley and Darcy are, of course, both doctors.
These details are all revealed in the first chapter, and after that it’s only a matter of getting the right characters together in the right way, and also of finding thoroughly modern ways to separate our lovers temporarily so they can be reunited. There are some surprises and curveballs along the way, so I won’t spoil things by revealing too much. But I do appreciate some of the modern touches, like the ball at Netherfield being replaced by a crass game of charades in which Kitty and Lydia embarrass their sisters. I also dearly love the fact that Liz and Darcy keep connecting not while walking through the fields, but through a more contemporary exertion: regularly evening runs through the suburban streets of Cincinnati.
Curtis Sittenfeld writes well, with a wry turn of phrase. Liz is particularly snarky and wonderful, Mrs Bennett suitably irritating, and Mr Bennett perfectly aloof. Eligible has some really gorgeous and original moments exploring falling in love, and I found Liz and Darcy’s development in second half of the novel entirely believable and engrossing. I think it takes a masterful writer to keep you reading when you already know what the ending will be. It’s how the ending is achieved that matters, and Sittenfeld delivers. Without spoilers, I also thought the very last chapter in this novel was a gorgeous touch, and offers readers one more way to find contentment, without necessarily the need for a happily-ever after ending (of the coupled variety). This final chapter was a clever way to subvert the conventions of the romance genre and the fates of the Bennett sisters in Eligible ultimately offer a plurality that suits its modern setting.