Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, is part of the Austen Project, where modern authors retell Jane Austen’s famous stories in modern day (the other books include Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith). I read this book in just one sitting, as I was in need of some quiet, alone time after a particularly taxing social day, and it was exactly what I needed.
While I adored this retelling (Liz was sufficiently annoying about hating Darcy when we all know she was making a big mistake and too many assumptions), Ursula K. LeGuin’s review in the The Guardian was fairly scathing. I guess I can see how some hardcore Austen fans might not love this retelling, but honestly, I think Sittenfeld captured with verisimilitude what the Bennet family would be like today, if they grew up in Cincinnati. Jane, the oldest, teaches yoga in New York City, and Liz, a magazine writer, also lives in New York, while Mary stays in her room back home and works toward a third online degree, and Lydia and Kitty do crossfit all day while still living at home as well. While I was a little taken aback at the crassness of Lydia and Kitty, I realized that’s exactly how those young women would act in today’s world–faces glued to phones and social media, and completely oblivious to manners and decorum.
I’m a fan of Sittenfeld’s other novels, Prep, American Wife, Sisterland, and The Man of My Dreams and I also thought this novel captured what it meant to be human–and particularly what it meant to be a single working woman close to forty in today’s world.
Here are a few of my favorite passages from the reading. I particularly like Sittenfeld’s use of metaphors.
- “It occurred to Liz one day, as she waited on hold for an estimate from a yard service, that her parents’ home was like an extremely obese person who could no longer see, touch, or maintain jurisdiction over all of his body; there was simply too much of it, and he—they—had grown weary and inflexible.”
- “There’s a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you–that both are inherently unfeminist. I don’t agree. There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.”
- “Such compliments–they were thrilling but almost impossible to absorb in this quantity, at this pace. It was like she was being pelted with magnificent hail, and she wished she could save the individual stones to examine later, but they’d exist with such potency only now, in this moment.”