Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I was super excited to read Eligible this month. Originally, I was planning on reading it before I read The Argonauts, but I was afraid that if I pushed The Argonauts back then I would never actually read it. Like I mentioned in my previous post, The Argonauts was a struggle. And I’m not going to lie- part of the motivation pushing me through was knowing that I had Eligible waiting for me.

I guess I should start by saying that I loved Pride and Prejudice. I was in middle school when I read it for the first time. It was one of the assigned summer reading books for my older brother’s English class, and I had always loved to read, so I found myself picking it up one night when he ignored it for the umpteenth time. It’s hard to describe how I felt reading it that first time, because it seems now as if I have always known and loved the story. I’m thumbing through my copy now, and the pages are yellow and musty (don’t you love the smell of old books?!) and most of the pages have creases where I folded them down, and there are most definitely coffee stains, and the careful underlining of passages in pen made by my brother, and my handwritten notes in pencil when it was time for me to read it for school… I can’t count how many times I’ve read this book, curled up in the corner seat of my parents’ couch or in my college dorm room or first apartment. It’s like an old friend, a well-worn companion that has been with me for over twelve years now.

Needless to say, I was excited when I first heard about Eligible. I was anxious to see how Sittenfeld would modernize the story. How would the Bennets and Bingleys fit into the crazy, modern world we call the 21st century? Pride and Prejudice had always seemed timeless to me, but was it really? I was also a bit nervous- part of the appeal of Pride and Prejudice was Austen’s voice, satirical and clever yet also proper and enchanting. With a different author, there would be a different voice, and would part of the appeal of the story be lost in the change?

Well, I needn’t have worried. Eligible was as perfect as I think it possibly could be. Somehow, Sittenfeld was able to keep the witty tone that Austen had mastered. And the characters were just as dear as they always had been, just a little different. The characters are older (or at least the Bennet girls seem to be about ten years older than their Pride and Prejudice counterparts), Bingley and Darcy are doctors (Darcy’s a neurosurgeon!), and Kitty and Lydia are seemingly egocentric millennial. Eligible also managed to include many aspects of modern society, from seemingly trivial topics like the Crossfit craze and online dating to more serious subject matter like the in vitro fertilization process and transgender relationships.

One of the changes between Pride and Prejudice and Eligible was the portrayal of Lydia’s story. In Pride and Prejudice, it seemed like she never really grew up and continued to be the immature and selfish young girl throughout the whole story. In Eligible, I was happy to see that she did change throughout the novel. She definitely didn’t make a major transformation, but there were some small changes that I identified as character improvements. As I’m writing this now, though, I’m wondering if I’m reflecting on Lydia more positively in Eligible because it’s easier for me to relate to the modern version. It’s not that I identify more with Lydia; I think it’s just a matter of having a better understanding of her experiences.

Probably the most notable difference between Pride and Prejudice and Eligible (other than the time period) is the setting. Eligible takes place in present-day Cincinnati, which really sets the tone of the novel. It felt like Liz spent just as much time and effort trying to defend the city as her hometown as she did trying to stand up for her family in the eyes of Darcy and the Bingleys. Personally, I loved that aspect of the story. I’m from Pittsburgh, so I understand what it’s like to grow up and live in a former industrial city that’s not quite as glamorous as places like New York or Los Angeles. It can be annoying (and sometimes pretty infuriating) when people are quick to judge and criticize the place that I call home. It was nice to read that Liz, despite living in New York for so long, still appreciated Cincinnati for what it is, and felt the need to defend it when necessary.

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Pittsburgh- I can’t resist a little bit of hometown pride 🙂

Basically, I loved Eligible. I really did. I’m trying to think of a nice way to wrap this post up and summarize my thoughts, but all I can think is that I just liked this book so much. There really isn’t much more I can say other than it was absolutely great and if you liked Pride and Prejudice then you would probably like Eligible. Curtis Sittenfeld deserves a lot of credit for writing such a superb modern version. This book is definitely being added to my list of favorites, and I know that I’ll be re-reading it sometime soon.