Am I a curmudgeon? Have I lost the ability to take delight in simple pleasures and enjoy things at face value? Is Eligible a charming, quick, witty read, or a slog through utter minutiae and plot threads that go nowhere? I found I was doubting myself as I read this, doubting my ability to discern whether a book was good or crap, even, dear readers, doubting my own taste level.
You already know the story of Eligible, it’s Pride and Prejudice moved to the present day and transplanted to Cincinnati. Now, I love every Jane Austen book, even the ones that other people don’t really like (ahem Mansfield Park ahem). I’ve never gotten into any of the rewrites, or sequels or any of that, except Clueless, of course. I was willing to give Eligible a try because so many people I know seemed to love it. I did not.
A couple things were enjoyable. I liked Dr. Darcy and his sister Georgie (although she’s barely in it). I liked that it takes place in Cincinnati, a city I’m familiar enough with that I recognized some of the neighborhood names that were dropped. I laughed a couple times. But overall I really didn’t like this book. The chapter setup is choppy and weird. Characters who, in Pride and Prejudice are entertainingly flawed, are in this book deeply unlikeable. I was always fond of Mary in the original and felt sorry for her. In this book she’s just awful. She takes delight in other’s misfortunes, especially her sister’s. She’s deeply unpleasant, as is Mrs. Bennet, Caroline Bingley, and Lydia. Jane Austen had a great ability to make even awful people fun to read about and somewhat sympathetic. Curtis Sittenfeld does not.
She made some weird choices with the plot, too. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is now a busy second-wave feminist speaker and activist that Lizzy, a magazine writer, wants to get an interview with (think Gloria Steinem). I don’t even know why she’s in the book. She’s not related to any other character and her scenes do nothing to forward the plot. Then there’s Jasper Wick, who’s just as big of a loser as the original Wickham, but barely disguises it and strings Lizzy along for like a decade. The REAL Elizabeth Bennet would never put up with such treatment.
Even over all these objections, though, I still doubted my own opinion. Eligible made such a big splash, that surely I’m being too critical. But now, seeing all these problems laid out in one place, I can say with certainty: It’s not me, Eligible. It’s you.