Thursday, March 31, 2016

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Title:  Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice
Author:  Curtis Sittenfeld
Publication Information:  Random House. 2016. 512 pages.
ISBN:  1400068320 / 978-1400068326

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

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

Favorite Quote:  "I've never met anyone with your interest in other people. Even when you're judging them, you do it with such care and attention. I can never predict who you'll like or dislike, but I always know your reasons will be specific and you'll express them with great passion."

I should start by saying that Pride and Prejudice is perhaps one of my all time favorite books. I have read it multiple times, and find myself enjoying it each and every time. When a retelling or spin-off comes around, I am enticed into reading it. At the same time, I am hesitant to read it because can a retelling ever really measure up to Jane Austen?

A few years ago, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and enjoyed it because it was so true to the original story and yet so far out there with zombie mayhem. The storyline comparisons hold in that book, and the introduction of zombies is just funny. Longbourn tells the story of the "downstairs" in the Bennett household; this story presents an alternate view that may be true to the times but not the view for me. Death Comes to Pemberly is a murder mystery set in the "happily ever after" of the Pemberleys, and I suppose I prefer the "happily ever after" to stay untarnished.

Eligible is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It is an actual retelling, following the gist of the original but set in modern times. For me, the premise of the book does not translate. Marriage, and the quest to marry of daughters, is the central theme of the original; it works for the time and place. Adult children, particularly daughters, living at home is also appropriate to the time and place of the original; it conjures up an entirely different image in modern day living. Modern day mothers may have the same concerns about their daughters today; however, even when the age of the daughters is changed to almost forty years old, the role of women has changed so significantly that the premise does not hold the same weight.

Putting aside that comparison to the original, Eligible on its own is still unfortunately not the book for me. None of the characters are particularly likable, sympathetic, or even strongly unlikable. Mostly, they come across as self-centered and self-indulgent. Largely, this is in part to the main way in which this book "modernizes" the original story. This "modernization" includes the introduction and repeated discussion of racial and sexual prejudices, affairs with married men, hate sex, reality television, and other such "modern" topics. Many of us modern day women manage to lead entire lives without such ideas touching our lives. It is certainly unpleasant to see them in the retelling of a classic that relies on the propriety and sensibility of a few strong characters.

This book is part of the The Austen Project, a publishing project that seeks to match six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. This is the first book I have read in this series, but apparently the fourth to be published. The first was Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope; the second was Northanger Abbey by Val McDermit; and the third was Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. Based on my experience with this book, I doubt I will read the others. However, I do wonder how differently the authors deal with the different stories. For this one, the modernization does not work for me; neither do the characters and story standing on their own, without any comparison.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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