Red cover of Eligible, featuring an illustration of a big diamond ring

About the Book

Title: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice
Published: 2016
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Say Yes
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Austentatious
Bonus FactorsPride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy
Relationship Status: Engaged

Cover Story: Say Yes

If this was a young adult book, I’d give it a Montell Jordan rating, but when it comes to the grown-up league, a good cover isn’t anything special. So I’ll just say that this artwork is absolutely charming and enticing and completely in line with the tone of the story, and WHY CAN’T YA HAVE NICE THINGS?

The Deal

As indicated on the front of the novel, Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I feel as if I could just add “fantastic” in front of “retelling” and thereby conclude this review, because at that point, you should be SOLD.

But I’m going to keep going, partially because Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing deserves extended praise, and partially because I just really want to gush.

So, it’s 2013, and the Bennets live in Cincinnati. Well, most of them do. Jane, who’s a yoga instructor, and Liz, who’s a writer for Mascara magazine, are living out their late 30s in New York, while Mary, Kitty and Lydia enjoy a job-free lifestyle (which for Mary means endless online graduate degrees and for Kitty and Lydia means CrossFit) under the roof of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who have become borderline hoarders. But after the family patriarch suffers a heart attack, Liz and Jane temporarily move back home, which is where, through Mrs. Bennet’s machinations, they meet Chip Bingley, a doctor but, more importantly, a recent bachelor on the TV show Eligible, and his best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a neurosurgeon.

We all know what happens next… and yet, thanks to Sittenfeld’s fresh approach, we actually don’t. And that’s where the fun really begins.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

One of my favorite things about Eligible‘s Elizabeth Bennet is that she’s not a romanticized version of the Austen heroine. While she’s smart and strong and independent, she’s also kind of an asshole (stemming more from her stubbornness and neuroses rather than any innate meanness). Of course I want to be besties with her, but it would be a lie to give her, say, a platinum or diamond-encrusted charm, because there were definitely moments when I needed to WALK AWAY. Even Charlotte Lucas, who is much more patient and kind than I am, had to tell Liz to check herself, and yet, at the end of the day, both of us love this woman, occasional idiot that she may be.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Clearly, the presence of Mr. Darcy means this book is already batting at least a 5 before the first page has been turned. But this Darcy (he goes by his last name) doesn’t rest on his laurels. He’s tall and brilliant and devastatingly handsome; he’s also supremely haughty and aloof.

Since this is not a YA novel, you can expect sex that isn’t, like a Big Deal, and since this is contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice… HELL. YEAH. I certainly enjoyed those, uh, fireworks, but it’s the frankness about sex that makes this book relatable and therefore even more hot. For example, Charlotte gets to say things like:

“Liz, the ST [sexual tension] between you and Darcy is threatening to engulf Northern California in a fiery ball. It’s your duty to save us all by having sex.”

You know she’s been waiting over 200 years to say that. AMEN, SISTER.

Talky Talk: Austentatious

Look, when it comes to Austen adaptations, I’m not picky. I’ll watch movies with even the loosest claim of inspiration, and if I had more time for romance novels, I would demolish all of the stories with heaving-bosom Lizzy and swashbuckling Darcy.

But here’s the thing, you guys. Curtis Sittenfeld is a bona fide writer with serious literary skills, and her talents are on full display in Eligible. This ain’t no fan fic. This is a complex, intelligent, emotionally rich portrait of modern day life, with piercing lines like this:

Even before Willie replied, Liz felt the loneliness of having confided something true in a person who didn’t care.

And progressive reflections like this:

“There’s a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you—that both are inherently unfeminist. I don’t agree. There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.”

And wonderfully resonant descriptions like this:

Such compliments—they were thrilling but almost impossible to absorb in this quantity, at this pace. It was like she was being pelted with a magnificent hail, and she wished she could save the individual stones to examine later, but they’d exist with such potency only now, in this moment.

Above all, Sittenfeld truly channels the wit of Jane Austen, which was/is simultaneously sharp and tender. The understated humor in this book is pitch-perfect, and while I highlighted at least a dozen passages that made me cackle, I’ll limit myself to two.

On Liz’s complicated relationship with the other Bennets:

… she was at times most able to enjoy her family members when she could sense their presence nearby without actually interacting with them.

On Mrs. Bennet, who is pretty much a garbage person and yet, strangely endearing (note, Ham is Lydia’s boyfriend):

While gazing at herself in the mirror, Mrs. Bennet added, “I hope Lydia’s not making a mistake moving in with Ham. You know what they say about when men get the milk for free.”

“Except that he’s supporting her. She hasn’t even tried to get a job.”

Liz’s comments seemed to please Mrs. Bennet. “Lydia’s such a pretty girl,” she said approvingly.

Sittenfeld nails the original essence of each character while inserting them into new situations, and the result is a dynamic and incredibly satisfying tribute to our Lady Jane.

Bonus Factor: Pride and Prejudice

Vintage cover of Pride and Prejudice with a peacock

Not to belabor the point here, but it’s such a riot to revisit this story through a different (and current!) lens. From re-fashioning characters (Mr. Collins is now Cousin Willie, an awkward tech millionaire) to putting others in sharper focus (Mrs. Bennet is kiiiind of a racist, while Caroline Bingley’s awfulness is less disguised by etiquette), Eligible revitalizes the familiar while honoring the elements we cherish. I particularly adored the interactions between the sisters (Lydia and Kitty are TERRIBLE in a way that makes me love them) and the fact that Pemberly is now an estate in the Bay Area, because of course it is.

Bonus Factor: Mr. Darcy

Screenshot of Mr. Darcy, played by a tall and brooding Matthew McFayden, wearing a long coat

Did I mention that Darcy has a sculpted chest in this book? Because he does.

Relationship Status: Engaged

Book, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Your wit and creativity dazzled me, while your compelling humanity and insightful nature swept me off my feet, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that we’re about to live happily ever after.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought this book with my own damn money, and received neither compensation nor cocktails in exchange for this review.

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Sarah splits her time between Dallas and Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.