Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

Find in catalogThis “modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice” updates the book in most ways quite nicely. Some characters’ temperaments are unchanged. Lydia is still self-centered: When Liz asks Lydia if she has any stationery, Lydia doesn’t. “Then how do you thank people?” Liz asked, and Lydia said, “For what?” Mrs. Bennett is self centered too, in her own way: “Though Mrs. Bennett conveyed her disappointment at not reaching Berea, her chagrin seemed expressed more than felt.” Some updates are quite different; despite the usual disclaimer that “any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental,” Kathy De Bourgh is clearly Gloria Steinem. I liked the suspense of waiting to see how Wickham would turn out, or even who would be Wickham (he got split into two characters). And it was fun noticing tips of the hat to the original text, like when Lizzy runs five miles to the hospital to help Jane, instead of taking a country walk.
I enjoyed this reading experience, but I do wonder how this novel would stand alone on its own merits if someone were not familiar with P and P, or even if someone would read it if they weren’t familiar. There were a few things that didn’t sit easily with me. I find it unlikely that Liz, a journalist in this edition, wouldn’t google Wick to find out from a third hand source the facts about his disgrace. And the handling of the first reveal of Ham’s secret made me cringe. It also seemed implausible that Liz would drop everything, especially her chance with Darcy, to go deal with this non-crisis crisis, even though I guess it’s textual. And then, instead of the last chapter being the wrap up/where are they now, it suddenly switches to Mary. Now, while on the one hand I can applaud giving Mary her due, since she is very underdeveloped in both books, and while I appreciated the new details about her, I was kind of befuddled the book ended that way. A labeled epilogue would have been better, but as a final chapter it seemed tacked on and left me feeling flat, instead of happy Liz and Darcy were finally together. (Spoiler!)

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