I first stumbled up Eligible while I was killing time in the Atlanta airport on my way to see my family in Texas. I was intrigued by the sheer fact that it was a modernized telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which just so happens to be one of my favorite books.
Fast forward to the 4th of July weekend where I eagerly picked it up as my lake-side read for the holiday weekend.
I really wanted to love the book. Really, I did. I loved Sittenfeld’s other books Prep and American Wife, as they were insightful looks into society and social status, regardless of my personal views on the issues. Eligible, on the other hand, falls short.
Set in Cincinnati, the novel reads more like a bad reality TV show than a smart, thought out re-telling of a classic. Charles “Chip” Bingley is an ER doctor fresh off the reality TV show “Eligible” (read: The Bachelor) who is typecast as a frat-boy in seersucker shorts with a propensity for high emotions. His best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy is an aloof, tongue-tied neurosurgeon who is anything but the literary heartthrob of the 19th century.
Additionally the novel has all of the Bennet sisters with “nonlucrative careers”; the younger Bennet sisters engaging in typical “Millennial” activities such as Crossfit and Paleo diets, Mary in the throws of pursuing her third online degree, and Jane and Liz approaching 40 as single women working in New York City as a yoga instructor and a magazine writer respectively.
These career choices, with the exception of Liz’s magazine career, seem to water down the depth of Austen’s original characters and thus set the stage for a world of cliches.
In an attempt to bring the Bennet’s into the modern age, the family encounters every social issue facing the country today including racism, financial struggle, acceptance of transgender individuals, infertility, and female empowerment. Instead of digging deeper and commenting on what the characters would potentially be going through today, the satire and commentary of society that Austen’s novel is praised for instead becomes lost in sophomoric jokes, contrived character development, and poor social commentary.
While well written, overall I was disappointed and wish it would have done better to bring Austen’s novel into the 21st century.