So, I read Prep by Curtis Sittenfield awhile back and really enjoyed it. Eligible (a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice) has been on my radar for awhile and when the price dropped I was like, ‘Sign me up.’
Yesterday was not good, so I found myself in bed and reading most of the day, and mostly devouring this book. I will start by saying this is not the retelling I wanted… I am not a die hard Austenite as some are, but I have always appreciated the works of this 19th-century author. While I was relatively okay with the first half of the book, the novel takes a turn that it can never recover from. Before we get to the point of no return, I will note that Mrs. Bennett’s open racism (among many other ‘isms’) was too distracting and disgusting for me to get past (treatment of black characters in this novel is nothing I would be proud of). While Mama Bennett was certainly annoying (and entertaining) in the original Austen version, she’s been replaced by a horrible shrew with no redeeming qualities (she actually tells one of her daughters, ‘…life can be very hard for mulatto children.’) Ditto the rest of the family, who, for the most part, are shallow, obnoxious assholes. I wonder if an editor had notes, and the author just ignored them, or how Random House let this one out the door. Liz (and to an extent Jane) are only barely palatable and certainly, at 38 and 40, old enough to know better. Darcy turns up, as do the Bingleys and the storyline loosely follows the narrative of the book.
Until it doesn’t.
So, one of the daughters elopes with a young man…who was born a woman. You might think the world was coming to an end, with the reactions from the characters (with the ugliest being, you guessed it, Mrs. Bennett). While I am happy to see diversity and the inclusion of a trans character, the responses are just so…outrageous that I don’t really ‘get’ it. As the book takes place in modern times, who honestly cares if a love interest was originally a woman? That person is now a dude, identifies as a man, end of story. Why does this plot point have to get so much undue focus? Given some of the responses from the other characters, I just… I had to skim the book because of my secondhand embarrassment. (Read some of the reviews of this book to get a better idea how offended members of the Trans community are).
The plot goes far further off the rails when you add in an unnecessary reality show plot line (!!!). Certainly, somewhere, Ms. Austen cannot be okay with having her name and novel attached in any way to Eligible. Overall, with strange short chapters (that are not much more than extended scenes), this is not a book I would recommend (for free or to pay for).
As a palate cleanser, I will give you a far better Darcy.
Or, you know, do it up with Amy Heckerling’s far superior modern version of Emma: