‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun Makeover

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun MakeoverEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
four-half-stars
Series: The Austen Project #4
Published by Random House on April 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving. Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My review: 

Prior to requesting Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible from Netgalley, I was completely unfamiliar with the Austen Project, in which six prominent modern-day authors have been tasked with giving contemporary makeovers to Jane Austen’s classic novels.  Because I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I was immediately intrigued by the project and eager to see what kind of modern spin these authors would put on some of my beloved favorites.

I’m happy to report that Eligible, Sittenfeld’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice, did not disappoint.  For those who are familiar with the original classic, Eligible preserves its main characters, primary storylines, satirical elements, as well as its overriding themes:   Mrs. Bennet is still obsessed with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters to marry, and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett again steal the spotlight as they verbally spar their way from hate at first sight to eventual true love.

In spite of the many similarities to Pride and Prejudice, however, Sittenfeld skillfully infuses Eligible with enough modern elements and unexpected plot twists to keep her story fresh and hilariously entertaining rather than simply a rehash of the original.

Highlights for me:

There were so many things I loved about this book that it’s impossible to name them all. The contemporary spin on the Liz/Darcy storyline is a given, but here are some of my other favorites:

The Americanized setting.  Swapping out the English countryside for the suburban landscape of Cincinnati, Ohio gave the original storyline an instant facelift, as did replacing fancy dress balls and strolls around formal English gardens with barbecues and jogs around the block.  The change in scenery was instantly relatable, and of course, there was the added amusement of learning that our oh-so-dignified Mr. Darcy was a big fan of Cincinnati chili.

The aging  of the Bennet sisters.  Since it would have been somewhat old-fashioned to be worried about twentysomethings and the danger of spinsterhood, Sittenfeld deftly updates both the ages of the Bennet sisters as well as the driving forces behind Mama Bennet’s desire to find them all men.  Eldest daughter Jane is now 40, with Liz not too far behind her at 38, so the relevant issue at hand for them, Jane in particular, is fertility.  If they want to have children, they had better get busy.

For the younger three Bennet sisters, the issue is more just about having them grow up and start fending for themselves.  Here, Sittenfeld has woven into her narrative a powerful, albeit humorous, criticism of millennials, and particularly of what she refers to as the ‘boomerang effect’ when the grown children return home to live with their parents.  Even though all five Bennet sisters are grown women, only two of them, Jane and Liz, have moved out of their parents’ home and secured careers for themselves.  Kitty, Lydia, and Mary have instead chosen to remain living at home and behaving like children.  They do absolutely nothing to help out around the house either through monetary contributions or by helping to care for their father when his health declines.  Instead of needing husbands, what these three girls need is a swift kick in the pants to get them out of their parents’ home and living independently.

Read more

four-half-stars

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’Room by Emma Donoghue
five-stars
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on September 15th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: Now a Major Motion Picture starring Brie Larson and William H. Macy#1 International BestsellerWinner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction PrizeWinner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean region)Winner of the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year.

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination-the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells; the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held since she was nineteen-for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation, and she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely . . .
Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience-and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

 

My review:  

I have to confess I had never heard of Emma Donoghue prior to the Oscar buzz that surrounded the film ‘Room’ earlier this year.  Because I have a rule that I never watch a movie that is based on a book until I have actually read the book, I immediately purchased a copy of ‘Room’ and settled in to find out why this story was generating so much interest.

There are some books that are out of sight, out of mind as soon as you finish reading the last page, and then there are others that crawl into your brain and won’t let go. ‘Room’ is most definitely the latter of the two.  I finished reading it a week ago and literally cannot stop thinking about it.  It’s just that mind blowing.

‘Room’ is a 12’x12’ shed where ‘Ma’ and her son, Jack, are living when the novel opens.  Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old and has been held captive in this room for seven years.  Jack, who is five years old (so yes, a child of rape), was born in this room and has never been outside of it.  This one room is literally his whole world.

What makes this story so unforgettable is the unique point of view from which it is told.  Instead of having Ma tell her story, which is what I would have expected, five-year old Jack is actually the narrator.  Because we are seeing the story unfold from Jack’s innocent perspective, rather than being plunged immediately into a horrific tale of kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape, instead we are presented with a view of everyday life in what Jack refers to as ‘Room’ and a beautiful story about a mother’s love for her child.  The first half of the novel paints a vivid picture of the world within ‘Room’ that Ma has painstakingly created for Jack.  The reader can see that Ma has clearly poured her heart and soul into shielding Jack from the reality of their imprisonment and into making his life as close to normal as she possibly can, given the circumstances.  And she has succeeded.  Jack truly believes that ‘Room’ is all there is and that anything else he sees on television is just make believe.  He has no idea that he and his mother are being held captive and that terrible things have happened to his mother since before he was born.

Read more

five-stars

About Emma Donoghue

emma donoghue

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

Book Review: Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
three-half-stars
Published by HarperCollins on July 14th 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 278
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

 

 

My review:

Count me as one of the many readers who considers Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird one of the most powerful works of fiction ever written.  Assigned to me as required reading when I was in eighth grade, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first ‘grown-up’ book I had ever read and a far cry from the books I was used to having my nose buried in – namely, those fun and fluffy tales of the Wakefield twins from Sweet Valley High.  Viewing racism through the eyes of an innocent child, the novel’s eight year old narrator, Scout Finch, coupled with Harper Lee’s beautiful prose, spoke to me in ways that no book that I’ve read before or since has.   I was thrilled therefore to hear that after so many years, we were finally getting another novel from Ms. Lee with Go Set a Watchman.

I think the key to fully appreciating Go Set a Watchman is to read it with the knowledge that it is not meant to be a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  As HarperCollins explains on its website, this is the first book that she submitted to her publisher for consideration and it was believed to be lost until it was recently discovered.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.  Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.  HarperCollins.com

Business Insider is a bit more explicit in discussing the relationship between the two novels:

Her publisher rejected it and suggested Lee explore the childhoods of the characters in the original novel, which led to the now-famous “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  BusinessInsider.com

In light of this information, I chose to view Go Set a Watchman as an early draft of what later became the much beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, basically an alternate universe if you please, and in viewing the novel as such, I quite enjoyed it.

Read more

three-half-stars