eligible book coverReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

Over two hundred years after its publication, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is still highly regarded. It’s read in classrooms across the country, has inspired many authors to write retellings and spin-offs for all of the Bennet sisters (including the rather dull Mary), and several versions of it have been made into TV miniseries and film versions set in the 1800s or even modernized.

Curtis Sittenfeld is the latest author to tackle a retelling of the beloved classic with Eligible, modernizing it and making it relevant to what is considered “old” for being an unwed woman in today’s world, and even weaving in our generation’s obsession with reality TV and CrossFit. The eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Liz, are forty and thirty-eight, respectively. Kitty and Lydia are jobless and obsessed with working out, and Mary is studious and secretive; her family members suspect that Mary is a lesbian. Chip Bingley is a former reality TV contestant for Eligible (think The Bachelor), and his relationship with Jane becomes complicated when it turns out she has been pursuing becoming a single mother via artificial insemination. And that is just the beginning of how Sittenfeld has updated the story of the Bennet family.

If there is one thing that I felt was lacking in this adaptation, it would have to be the romance between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lizzie Bennet. Usually I’m all for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but I wasn’t especially attached to them in this incarnation. When Darcy finally confesses his love for Elizabeth, it comes off as more of an insult than a declaration of true love. I also found it disappointing how their love affair began; it didn’t ring true to the spirit of the characters and just came across as something similar to a bad story line in a soapy prime time TV series on ABC. In a surprising twist, it was actually the relationship between Lydia and a newly invented character that appeared more romantic and genuine. I was rooting more for those characters than Darcy and Liz, or even Jane and Chip Bingley.

Some Pride and Prejudice purists might have a difficult time with this adaptation, but I found it pretty enjoyable overall. I’ve read the classic at least six times, and Sittenfeld still managed to pepper her interpretation with a few fun surprises. Eligible is one of six books in a project where all of Jane Austen’s completed novels have been updated. This was the first I’d heard of the Jane Austen Project, but I’ll undoubtedly be looking into reading the rest of the books, written by five different authors, sometime soon.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.