How much has changed on the romantic front since Jane Austen first published Pride and Prejudice? Curtis Sittenfeld attemps to show us in her modern retelling Eligible. We meet the Bennett family at their dilapidated estate in Cincinnati, Ohio where three of the five unmarried Bennet sisters still reside. Kitty and Lydia are young, carefree and obsessed with Paleo and Crossfit. Mary is scholarly and reclusive- and in this version teased endlessly by her sisters for the suspicion that she is a lesbian. Jane and Liz have moved to New York where they work as a yoga instructor and magazine columnist, respectively. The entire family in brought back together when Mr. Bennett has a health scare. Determined, as always, to marry off her daughters, Mrs. Bennet takes this opportunity to orchestrate a meeting between the newest arrival to Cincinnati, Chip Bingley, and her eldest daughter. Chip is a former star of the hit reality show Eligible, a riff on The Bachelor and has moved to town to practice medicine as an emergency room physician. At the barbeque hosted by the Bennet’s family friends the Lucas’s, Chip and Jane meet and to Mrs. Bennet’s delight begin to date in earnest. However, they meet a few bumps along the way. Also at the barbeque, Liz meets Darcy, Chips friend and a neurosurgeon at the same hospital. Keeping with Austen’s original character portrayal but updated for 21st century social norms, Liz and Darcy begin a courtship filled with hate sex, misleading text messages and a reality television romance.
Then in a severe voice without preamble, Darcy said, “I’m in love with you.” “Ha ha,” Liz said. “It’s probably an illlusion caused by the release of oxytocin during sex,” Darcy continued, “But I feel as if I’m in love with you. You’re not beautiful and you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition. And your family, obviously, is a disgrace. Yet in spite of all common sense, I can’t stop thinking about you. The time has come for us to abandon this ridiculous pretense of hate sex and admit that we are a couple.”
Liz is not to be swayed by Darcy’s attempt at romance- she is rather put off by his arrogance. It is not until Liz puzzles out Darcy’s true motives behind multiple misinterpreted interactions that she learns of his devotion to her and allows the relationship happen. In a deeply romantic exchange during the filming of an Eligible special Liz and Darcy confess their love for one another.
Darcy was looking at her with seriousness. He said, “If I told you again that I was interested in you- do you think it would be a good idea?” Liz nodded. She tried to keep her voice steady as she said, “I’m old enough to know that sometimes you don’t get a second chance.” “My darling-” Darcy lifted his palm from her arm to her cheek and she leaned into it; she thought she might weep and closed her eyes. “I would- I will- give you as many chances as you need. My feelings for you have never changed. And all the mushy things I was too cowardly to say before, they’re just as true now. You’re different from any woman I’ve ever met. Even when you’re arguing with me, you’re easy to be around. And those times you came over to my apartment- those were the most fun I’ve ever had.” Liz opened her eyes. “You look at diseased brains all day. No offense, but your bar for fun might be kind of low.” “No,” Darcy said. “It’s not. I used to watch from the window as you left in your running clothes, and I’d think, one of the times she leaves will be the last time I see her. It destroyed me. I didn’t want us to have a last time and that was how I realized I’d fallen in love with you.
Sucessfully tackling mondern romance Eligible explores other hot topics including gender, race, the housing crisis and, of course, Crossfit. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and maintaining Austen’s orignial framework in the best of ways, Eligible is a vast undertaking that lives up to expectations. A great read for those who love the story of Pride and Prejudice but want something a bit more lighthearted.
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A review copy of this title was provided via Netgalley.