Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’m torn about this book. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was able to get through it quickly and with ease. On the other hand, there were a lot of flaws, not only with the plot itself, but also with the character development and the anticlimactic ending. 

Let’s start with the good stuff: 

IMG_1141The writing: Curtis Sittenfeld is a very talented writer, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. Some of her writing even resembled a Jane Austen style, which I’m sure was pre-planned. The short chapters, while sometimes annoying, actually encouraged me to continue reading late into the night on more than a few occasions, and the humour that was infused throughout was well executed, but for me it only came from Mr. Bennett’s witty one liners.

Some of my favourite samples of Sittenfeld’s writing include, “My dear,’ Mr. Bennett said, ‘your coastal affectations are in imminent danger of becoming tedious.” (p. 233.) and “How rapidly Liz’s once-favourable opinion was curdling, what unflattering details, previously ignored, could be marshalled as evidence for a contrary view.” (p. 174).

Language: I always enjoy books that challenge and expand my vocabulary, and there were a handful of words that I had to look up while reading Eligible. Here’s a list. Tell me how many you know, or don’t know so I can see if I’m below average.

  • Churlish – rude in a mean-spirited and surly way
  • Equanimous – calm and composed
  • Detente – the easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries
  • Wastrel – a wasteful or good for nothing person
  • Bucolic – relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life
  • Sagacity – having or showing keen mental discernment
  • Verdant – (of countryside) green with grass or other vegetation
  • Sentinel – Soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch
  • Acrimony – Bitterness or ill feeling

Themes: In my opinion, Sittenfeld did a good job in staying true to the themes of the original P&P. What’s amazing to me is how Jane Austen was able to write a novel in 1813, that would remain relevant in 2017; but it’s precisely the timelessness of the book that makes it a classic.

The original P&P story is all about love, reputation, and class relations, and these themes come through in the Eligible adaptation moderately well. Instead of being in their late 20s, Jane and Elizabeth Bennett are both approaching 40 – an age that is more sensible in modern times, for women to be desperately looking for love. Jane is so desperate, in fact, that she decides to try getting pregnant on her own, using anonymous sperm donors through a clinic.

Elizabeth, while not as motivated to procreate, is stuck in a dead-end relationship with a married man Jasper Wick (Mr. Wickham) and seems to think she deserves no better. That is, until she meets Darcy *swoon.* However, her family’s reputation seems to interfere with her search for love, as Darcy indicates that this was one of the reasons he held back his feelings for her.

Darcy is most definitely portrayed as being upper class (he’s a doctor, his family has a giant mansion in the Bay area), while Elizabeth is seen as middle class (she scrapes by in New York City, spends the last of her savings to help her family out of their financial problems, and behaves in a way that deems her, ‘the party girl.’) In this way, we can see Sittenfeld’s attempt at conveying the original themes from Pride and Prejudice.

Now for the not-so-good stuff: 

IMG_1367Characters: Without even getting into the traits, some of the names alone were more than I could handle. Charles Bingley’s name was changed to Chip Bingley. Why and what for is beyond me. All of the other character’s got to keep their names, and there’s nothing particularly unusual about his name in the original Pride and Prejudice. In addition to this strange choice, there was another character called Ham, short for Hamilton, but I don’t recall a character by this name in the Jane Austen version, so this was also an unusual choice that I couldn’t get used to.

For the most part, the characters are all the same, except for the two most important characters: Darcy and Liz! I’ll go into the reasons more in-depth below but I found Liz to be the most changed, and was the most disappointed by this. She was downright rude, crass, and trashy at some points.

The more I read the more annoyed I became by Liz’s desperate behaviour. One change I didn’t quite like was how reading was not a large part of her life. Instead she was a writer for a fluffy women’s magazine called “Mascara,” and I felt that these changes in her personality traits were unnecessary and detracted from the adaptation overall.

Warning! Spoilers ahead. Continue only if you have read the book. 

Plot: It’s been a while since I read Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve seen the Keira Knightley film nearly 50 times. In both the book and the film, I never got the impression that Liz was desperate and insecure, or pursuing Darcy in the relationship. In Sittenfeld’s adaptation, not only is Elizabeth the one who initiates the relationship with Darcy, she starts it by suggesting to him that they go “back to his place” to have “hate sex.”

Darcy and Liz then go back to his place, do what Liz proposed, and then Liz leaves immediately. This, to me, made Liz seem cheap, slutty, and unlikeable. Then, miraculously after half a dozen or so, of these encounters, Darcy proclaims his love for Liz, but I don’t see how he could have fallen in love with her. I didn’t see any desirable traits displayed on Liz’s part and there was just no palpable sexual tension or chemistry between Darcy and Liz.

In the end, Liz was ultimately the one to propose to Darcy and this to me just felt so lacklustre, making the climax flat and disappointing.

There were also a lot of irrelevant plot points, including the one about Kathy De Bourgh, and the selling of the house took up a lot more time than it needed to.

Overall there were a lot of parts that I enjoyed, but as an adaptation I was not impressed. As a standalone book it would probably be a 3/5 and that’s how I’ve rated it.

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