29 May 2016

Review #445: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

----Jane Austen

Curtis Sittenfeld, an American bestselling author, pens an enticing and modern version of Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice in her retelling book, Eligible that weaves the portrait of the upper-class and an affluent family in the society, among whom the mother of the family with the onset of her eldest daughter's fast approaching fortieth birthday decides to play the match maker for the her five unmarried daughters with the most eligible and rich man in Cincinnati.


A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

Mrs. Bennet is determined to marry off her five unmarried daughters to some rich bachelor and for that if she has to play the cupid or the matchmaker than she would play that role diligently. Liz Bennet lives in NYC with her elder sister, Jane, who is thirty-nine years old and soon will be forty, and after Jane's so many failed relationships, she is sure that she has passed that age to attract any suitable marriage material man. Liz, on the other hand, is in a live-in relationship with her long -time friend-cum-work colleague yet a married man, Jasper. On Mrs Bennet's request, both these women travel back to their hometown, Cincinnati. And upon their arrival, Jane is soon forced to meet Chip Bingley, the handsome Ivy-league doctor, who is ready to settle down with the right woman. And on the very first meeting itself, these two eligible suitors for one another hit it off. But Chip's best-friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, thinks otherwise about the well-behaved Bennet sisters and also about their not-so-perfect looks. In fact, Darcy plays the evil card to disrupt Chip and Jane's complex relationship. Hence Liz turns a blind eye to all those brooding and good looks of Darcy. Its a long journey for Liz amidst her family's A-class troubles, her parent's decision to sell their mansion, her sisters' love-life dramas, before she realizes that her heart too is longing for the very idea of matrimony that her sisters are so enthusiastically accepting it.

The author has flawlessly captured the very similar portrait of Austen's popular novel, Pride and Prejudice with the Bennet family drama and their complicated yet hilarious journey to matrimony for the five unmarried sisters. And not to mention, the author has also captivated Austen's famous character of Mr. Darcy in modernized version. And honestly, Austen's dedicated fans will certainly agree and enjoy this modern version of Pride and Prejudice. And for that I would like to give the author a big round of applause for putting so much effort into this story and representing it just in a classic Austen way but with a flair of modern perspective.

The author's writing style is excellent laced with humor and emotions that will make the readers laugh most of the times and feel sentimental at times. The narrative style is also very evocative and will feel the readers heart with a sense of nostalgia for the literary works of one of the greatest author of this world. Although the dialogues are hilarious, short and crisp with an aura of expressiveness. The story is a common one, yet Sittenfeld's unique and arresting writing style will make the readers addicted to it and will keep them glued till the very end. The pacing of the story is slow as it has so many layers and so many background stories that it might feel bit tiring at times to keep up with the stories of so many characters.

Similarly, like Austen, Sittenfeld, too has portrayed the similar and myriad cast of crazy characters into her story and her portrayal is apt and extremely lovely. The characters will keep the readers amused with their misdirected and wrong moves while trying to settle down or make a living, as three of the sisters are still dependent on their old parents money and roof of their house. The main character, Liz, at first, might feel like bit bossy but then comes across someone like a saint, who devoid of her own troubles will jump into her family's problems at first. Liz is an independent, modern woman who does not need a man to define her life or her success. And she is the epitome of all the modern day career-minded women. Darcy is the same old Darcy who is equally rich, flamboyant, successful, judgemental and the key player in almost all the sisters' journey to matrimony. The rest of the supporting characters are highly relatable and extremely funny.

The author has depicted the journey towards marriage with a modern-day mind frame as she has highlighted the issues faced these days in arranged marriages, how strenuous it is know a stranger inside and out, chosen by someone else to be one's soulmate. Moreover, the author has featured the issues of transgender and other such social stigma sensitively yet with a positive sarcasm. The love story among the characters are passionately yet maturely painted into the story line although with an ability to make the readers feel the love that the characters are feeling. As it is evident from the author's writing style that she has poured out all her best emotions while penning this story.

In a nutshell, this is a compelling Austen-themed novel which will keep the readers entertained and intrigued. Austen fans must grab a copy of this book for sure.

Verdict: A perfect Austenish rich contemporary novel of marriage and family drama.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from Harper Collins India for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the new novel Eligible, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice (due out April 2016) as well as the bestselling novels Sisterland, American Wife, Prep, and The Man of My Dreams, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Curtis's writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Vanity Fair,Time, Slate, Glamour, and on public radio's This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she currently lives in St. Louis, MO.
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