Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is the most recent of a number of commissions to write updates of Jane Austen – here’s a link to the facebook page which tells you more. I’ve only read Emma so far, and was somewhat disappointed. Eligible is a different matter altogether.
I had to read Eligible twice, once just to gobble it up as quickly as possible, and a second time to savour it.
Here’s why I’m impressed:
- Most importantly, Sittenfeld nails Lizzy’s emotional journey. The romance is great, Darcy is incredibly sexy, and Liz’s uncertainties, doubts, longings, changes and learning are all perfectly mapped and psychologically believable.
- The need for the Bennet girls in the original to be married is very real – they must marry for economic reasons as well as to maintain status. Being an old maid in 1813 was no joke – likewise Lydia’s disgrace was powerfully shaming back then. The difficulty is to recreate the same degree of jeopardy for the characters in our permissive world: I was amazed and delighted with Sittenfeld’s solutions to these problems. Not gonna tell you though
- The updating is very very clever. As a fully signed-up Pride and Prejudice nerd, there was enormous pleasure to be got from seeing how the author did it. I was wondering how she would recreate e.g. Lizzy’s walk to Netherfield in all that dirt, Darcy’s wealth and status, Kitty and Lydia’s vulgarity – and Mrs Bennet’s. Sittenfeld manages it so smoothly that you almost forget which bit of the original she’s referring to. Very very clever.
- The writing is plain and clear – it never gets in the way, is never bumpy, awkward or self-conscious.
- The book is fun – knowing, sophisticated, romantic, funny and contemporary.
- Hate the cover.