Charles Caleb Colton (an English writer who I believe was born in the 1700’s ) once said that: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Most days I agree with this statement. Today I do not.
My shelves are filled with classic literature, and subsequently hundreds of books that retell those classic stories from many different angles in many different eras. They are some of my most beloved books. Why? Because they take what I love and allow me to read it over and over again with fresh eyes.
Some of them are silly, most…serious but I have enjoyed each and every one of them for what they are.
When I first caught wind that Curtis Sittenfeld (an author I had not read but heard much about) was publishing a modern retelling of (easily) my favorite book…I was excited. That excitement however, quickly faded when I realized “Eligible” was more of a mockery of Austen’s work than an actual reworking of it.
Let’s start with the plot first (because I’m much less angsty about it than the characters.)
While the parallels between Austen and Sittenfeld’s version were easily recognizable, most were poorly executed. Not once, but in every chapter scenes were chopped and pieced back together like a puzzle. Insignificant information (usually flashbacks explaining a siblings past behavior, but also the listing of every street name Liz passed during her daily jog) seemed to be Sittenfeld’s niche, engulfing more space than necessary. Because of this quirk…the active plot felt like an afterthought, a stitch in Sittenfeld’s side that needed to be taken care of rather than nurtured. It also led to missed opportunities and bad choices.
Most of those bad choices had to do with her characters, and how each was dealt with. Or more importantly…how some (who should have been significant) were mentioned offhandedly, and others (who were all but meaningless) took up entire chapters.
For example, feminist extraordinaire Kathy De Bourgh. (I think that’s how she spells it…I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment.)
Liz (when not playing house maid to every member of her family) is a journalist. At one point, her job catches up to her and she must interview Ms. De Bourgh for an article. Several pages are taken up with nothing other than Liz’s communication (or lack there of) with De Bough’s publicist. Several additional pages are devoted to how amazing and influential Ms. DB is. Then, Sittenfeld moves on to De Bourgh’s works, and we are blessed with a full account of everything she has written and all of her notable quotes. We are now (as readers) successfully primed for the interview of a lifetime. To bad it’s not going to happen (at least not right now, when everyone cares.) Why? Because Liz (who has been trying for A VERY LONG TIME) to secure a time to talk to Ms. DB decides to lie about being busy when the opportunity arises. That’s roughly 15 pages devoted to Ms. DB without any payoff. But wait…there’s more. When the opportunity arises again, Liz finally jumps on the ball. An interview takes place. Praise baby Jesus. Unfortunately, NONE of it freaking matters. Ms. De Bourgh (unlike in the original telling) means NOTHING. She has zero importance to the story WHATSOEVER!
This is a continual problem throughout the book.
Jasper Wick. Georgiana Darcy. Collins. Mrs. Bennett’s lady’s luncheon. (This list could go on and on) are pointless. The references to them are exhaustive (ok, maybe not Gerogie…I’d actually refer to her as a missed opportunity) and only serve as brakes in an already poorly paced story.
But believe it or not…Sittenfeld’s rambling wasn’t even my biggest issue with the book. Nope, I had two of those and they almost made me put the book down. (Or more accurately delete it from my kindle.)
The youngest Bennett sisters and the total lack of chemistry between Liz and Darcy.
I get that the youngest of the Bennett crowd (Mary, Lydia, Kitty) are somewhat foolish. Even in the original they read as a parody to their time (intentionally of course) but in “Eligible” they are nothing less than polarizing. Mary is brash and rude while Lydia and Kitty are…well…vulgar. It’s ok to exaggerate the flaws of characters, but Sittenfeld went too far this time. I HATED them. ALL of them. They were left with no redeeming qualities. Very badly done.
And then there were Liz and Darcy. The REASON that people flock to “Pride & Prejudice” to begin with. While separately they were fine, together they were a disaster. They had zero chemistry. Even when they were engaging in what Liz referred to as “hate sex” there remained a void. To make matters worse, Sittenfeld never even TRIED to correct the problem, establish tension, create a few romantic moments. Nope, instead she relied on her other characters (mainly Charlotte) to TELL Liz that her and Darcy had some serious ST. (Yep, that’s how she referred to it in the book. ST for sexual tension. She couldn’t even be bothered to write it out.) *sigh*
This is what put the nail in the coffin for me. Sealed the deal. For 500 pages I put up with penis jokes, transgender/gay/body-shaming/closet racist shock stock, and an annoying street guide for what?
I’ll tell you for what. So that I could get to the good part. So that I could watch the classic tale of Liz and Darcy unravel in a brand-new and exciting way. Instead I got some second-rate reality TV schlub, no tension, and a choppy ending.
I read every page of this book, and honestly…I wish I hadn’t. If this was supposed to be Sittenfeld’s form of flattery to Austen, then my heart truly goes out to Austen. Because this was just BAD.
I say don’t waste your time. Especially if you are a tried and true P&P fan.