Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible cover

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

Quite by chance, I have chosen a book from The Austen Project as the first post in MY Austen project. The Austen Project is a series where modern authors have rewritten Austen’s novels, presumably in honour of the 200th Anniversary of her death. So far four have been published: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible which is her retelling of Pride and Prejudice. If I’m completely honest, I was not at all interested in any of these books. I saw the Sense and Sensibility one day and wondered why anyone would even attempt to rewrite Austen’s work. It feels like the height of arrogance to write a version of one of Austen’s novels and keep the title! In fact, I was outraged and offended by the very idea. Then Eligible appeared as a 99p Kindle book, and I thought I’d give it a chance…

So, there are two key things that Curtis Sittenfeld does to change Pride and Prejudice – firstly, she moves the story from the Hertfordshire to Cincinnati, Ohio, and secondly, she makes Jane, Lizzy, Darcy, and Bingley about 15-20 years older than the original characters in Austen’s novel. Making the characters older makes sense. Unless you are part of some deeply religious sect, being unmarried at 22 isn’t a sign of failure. In Eligible, Mrs Bennet’s real concern is whether her daughters will produce any children.

Like Pride and Prejudice, Eligible starts with Darcy and Bingley arriving in the Bennet’s sisters’ world. But they are not two gentlemen from the north of England, they are two doctors, and there is the added excitement of Chip Bingley* being a minor celebrity having starred in a Bachelor-style dating show (called, you guessed it, Eligible). Elizabeth and Jane live and work in New York (as a journalist and yoga teacher respectively)  but have recently returned to Cincinnati for a family crisis. Lydia and Kitty are in their early twenties and obsessed with CrossFit, while Mary is fairly reclusive and spends most of her time lurking in her room studying.

I’m not going to say anything else about what Sittenfeld has changed because the joy of this book is finding out how she has translated the novel into modern-day America. As a Pride and Prejudice obsessive, it’s a delicious treat to be able to experience the story in a slightly different way. It’s not my favourite book ever, and it definitely won’t be for everyone. But this book made me cackle with glee on a packed commuter train I think that’s as good a recommendation as you can get.

*Yuck to Chip. Why on EARTH do Americans use Chip as a nickname for Charles?

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