I’m so pleased to be sharing with you another great book from American author Curtis Sittenfeld. Written in 2016, Eligible is Sittenfeld’s 5th book and is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. In fact, the book arose from publisher HarperCollins’s “Austen Project,” which invited contemporary novelists to reimagine the works of the great eighteenth-century British writer. And fittingly, my lovely cohost is also making her 2nd appearance on the podcast – the lovely Maddie Thomson joins me to discuss this book.
About Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible is Curtis’ 5th book. in 2008, she wrote American Wife, in which she imagined the life of a first lady much like Laura Bush which was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep. Her other books include The Man of My Dreams, Sisterland, Eligible and the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It. Her stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and the New York Times magazine.
This modern tale is set in Cincinati, Ohio and centres around, yes – you guessed it – the Bennet family – a brood of 5 sisters, none of whom are yet married! The star of the show is the second oldest sister, Liz, is a journalist living in New York who returns home to Cincinnati, Ohio, after her father has a heart attack. She soon discovers that her parents haven’t taken care of the house or their finances and that her three younger sisters still live at home and have been mooching off their parents for years. Liz decides to try and improve the situation, all while juggling a bad boyfriend back in New York and a new flirtation with Mr. Darcy, who is a neurosurgeon. Liz’s older sister, Jane, has a crush on doctor Chip Bingley who was famous for appearing on Eligible – basically The Bachelor, which becomes quite tumultous relationship.
Now, this is a long book – it’s 512 pages but it has a series of quite short chapters which helps the reader manage the size of the novel. It received quite a mixed response when it was released in 2016. Much of the criticism was around Sittenfeld’s failure to deeply explore the modern themes which she weaves into her modern tale – such as interracial relationships, fertility issues, healthcare, gender and sexuality. But I feel that this criticism is too harsh. This is a fun, light novel that never tried to be a deeply nuanced work of literary fiction. And once, you appreciate how it was conceieved – as part of an Austen revival project – her management of the modern themes seems more than appropriate.
Maddy and both thoroughly enjoyed it. Maddy gave it an 8 and I was more generous and gave it an 8.5.
Check out the podcast below for our full discussion about this great book.