3.5 stars. I didn’t go into this book expecting Jane Austen levels of genius so my experience reading Eligible was pretty enjoyable. As far as Austen adaptations go, it was pretty great, about on par with something like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Let’s be real, it’s unlikely that any adaptation is ever going to reach the heights of an Austen original, but I was surprised by how closely Sittenfeld’s version hewed to Pride and Prejudice.
In Eligible, Liz and Jane are both in their late thirties, living in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they travel back to Cincinnati where the rest of the Bennet family lives. Lizzy’s been gone for so long that she didn’t notice that their house is falling apart, her parents hardly even like each other anymore, her younger sister’s lives are going nowhere, and the Bennets are in over their heads financially. The one good thing about being back in Ohio is that Jane immediately clicks with Chip Bingley, a wealthy former reality show contestant who seems genuinely wonderful. Although Liz likes Chip, she quickly grows weary of having to deal with his sister, Caroline, and best friend, Darcy.
The best thing about this adaptation is that Sittenfeld manages to capture some of Austen’s skewering of the upper middle and upper classes. Hardly anyone gets spared in Eligible and that’s exactly how it should be. Mrs. Bennet has an online shopping problem and is casually racist/sexist/homophobic, Mr. Bennet is all at once kind and a bit of an asshole, Jane is sweet but hopelessly naive, Liz means well and yet still manages to be shortsighted, Mary has little use for her sisters or her multiple degrees, Kitty doesn’t have much of her own personality, and Lydia can’t be bothered with manners. Similarly, the other characters also have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them seem like realistic people. This book is not a fairytale and these people are all wonderful/terrible in different ways.
The worst thing about Eligible is that it barely captures any of Austen’s wit or charm. Don’t get me wrong, this was a fun read, but I doubt I’ll be returning to it as a life-long favorite. Every book trying to capture a bit of Austen’s magic only reinforces her genius.
Should you read this book if you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan? Probably, but don’t go into it with Austen sized expectations.