I have mentioned more than once my immense fondness and love for the YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I read the companion book about Lizzie, and the sequel of sorts, about Lydia. I was of the opinion that Pride and Prejudice had been modernised pretty successfully already. But as we have seen in the last few years with the many different iterations of Sherlock Holmes, in films, books and TV, a really good thing can inspire a lot of different interpretations.
Eligible is part of The Austen Project, which about 200 years after her death, pairs six contemporary fiction authors with the works of beloved Jane Austen, asking them to re-imagine them in a modern setting. Joanna Trollope has done Sense and Sensibility, Val McDermid has done Northanger Abbey, Alexander McCall Smith has done Emma, and Curtis Sittenfeld is tasked with giving us a contemporary literary twist on Jane and Lizzie (or Liz, as she’s mostly referred to here), Bingley and Darcy. Set in Cincinnati, it has Jane being a yoga instructor trying to get pregnant with IVF, as she has yet to find a man she really likes; Elizabeth is a successful magazine columnist, conducting an affair with the married Jasper Wick; Mary is the eternal student, generally completely uninterested in any of her sisters’ concerns; while Kitty and Lydia are cross-fit and paleo diet fanatics. Chip Bingley is a handsome ER doctor who recently participated in the popular reality show Eligible (think The Bachelor, you’re clearly meant to), his ambitious sister Caroline is his manager and Fitzwilliam Darcy is his arrogant neurosurgeon friend, who can’t seem to play well with others in a social setting.
The two eldest Bennet women (Jane is about to turn forty) move back home after their father has an accident and breaks his arm badly. It’s clear that Mr. Bennet has badly mismanaged the family’s finances, not helped by his oblivious wife, who relieves stress by shopping online and hoarding. Mrs. Bennet desperately wants one of her daughters to hit it off with Chip Bingley, and is delighted when he and Jane seem instantly smitten with one another. Liz, meanwhile, tries to get her father to understand that their huge childhood home needs to be cleaned, fixed up and put on the market. The three younger sisters need to leave the nest and fend for themselves, while the Bennet parents move into a more affordable apartment. Because Chip and Jane start dating, Liz frequently runs into Darcy, slowly beginning to wonder if their constant sniping is a sign of something else.
I’m not going to lie, I preferred The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to this, and just thought it was a lot more fun. Full review here.