My book club met recently (hours before the Cavs began to play the game that would win them the NBA championship, to be exact) on a rooftop to discuss Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Eligible. Sittenfeld, best known for Prep and American Wife, was approached by the Austen Project and asked to write it. For many people, Pride and Prejudice is such a classic, it would feel sacrilegious to tamper with it in any way. Basically for that reason, I’ve never read any other fan-fiction stories like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Death Comes to Pemberley.
So. The questions you might be asking:
Is this novel as good as the original? Of course not.
So should I read it? Yes. It is almost 500 pages, so I started a few weeks before book club, just in case. However, I finished it in 3 days. That is to say, I got really into it.
Why? Honestly, it’s just entertaining. I was surprised that my reading life became so engulfed, especially because I knew where the story was headed. I thought some of the changes were especially appropriate–Elizabeth and Jane are 38 and 39 in New York City and the reimagined Mr. Wickham as a single New York male felt so appropriate (and spot-on), as did his relationship with Elizabeth. The play on reality TV (Mr. Bingley was a contestant on “Eligible”) made for an entertaining parallel. Also, much of the book takes place in Cincinnati, so my southwest Ohio heart burst at all the mentions (there were many) of Skyline Chili.
What are the caveats? The biggest one for me was that Elizabeth just isn’t the same–she is a beloved, respected character to me, and in the translation I felt like she took on some of the worst of my generation. If I wasn’t constantly comparing her to the original, I may not have been so critical.
My book club essentially decided that Eligible is like candy–not super good for you, per se, but a lot of fun. My friend who hosted came up with some great questions that got me thinking and if you are interested, I am happy to send them your way. Sittenfeld herself said in a Vanity Fair article in April: “I feel that Eligible is this act of admiration. I considerPride and Prejudice perfect. I don’t think it needs to be improved upon in any way. I never felt like. . . . It wasn’t as if the estate of Jane Austen had found me and asked me [to] write this. I mean, I really feel like this is supposed to be fun, and it’s essentially—it’s fan fiction. It’s fan fiction that I worked really hard on.”