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.
Stella is brilliant.
Even though I’ve only watched the first two episodes, I’m going to tell you why. It’s all about impossible contradictions, and that is what makes it such a stonking artistic achievement.
- It’s laugh-out-loud funny and tear-jerkingly poignant.
- It’s populated by people who don’t often make it onto the screen and yet are highly attractive and/or hilarious, yet never contemptible.
- The character of Stella is such that you both want to be her, and are grateful that you are not her.
- It seems real and believable, while at the same time managing to be utterly romanticised.
- It makes living in a downbeat Welsh country town seem both like a great idea and a terrible idea.
- It shows us how petty and awful and imperfect everyone can be – everyone, even the main lovable characters – and yet that the essential goodness of humanity will win out.
- It takes complex social issues – racism, teenage pregnancy, poverty, marriage break-up – looks them in the face and makes them into human and universal stories. With a happy outcome.
- The sets are so believably unstylish, that you have to think they filmed in people’s actual homes. They feel like homes, not sets.
- Ruth Jones
- There is a pony that lives in a house across the road.
- Did I mention Ruth Jones?
That will do for now. I may say more when I’ve watched a few more episodes.
Stephen King said, write for yourself first, then edit for readers (or something like that). Here’s the quote
- First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
and you can read the rest of his tips here
I did write Becoming Mary for myself: I wrote the Pride and Prejudice sequel I would have wanted to read, but all the time I was aware of a reader, a reader who I wanted to come on the trip with me, to enjoy the funny bits as I did, to cringe in sympathetic embarrassment at Mary’s terrible self-deceptions and humiliations.
All the time I had an imaginary reader beside me, and I was saying, listen to this. And of course she (usually it was a she…) would laugh, cry and gasp to order.
Then I gave the book out to family, fellow writers, acquaintances in book clubs. The feedback was good – I think they genuinely enjoyed it, they weren’t just being nice. Not completely.
But what I long for now are the opinions of people who don’t give a shit about my feelings. I want to know what effect it has on strangers. I want actual readers to tell me ‘how it was for them’.
Writers need reviews!
Self-published writers especially need reviews!