Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible is a modern day retelling of the classic novel we all know and love, Pride and Prejudice.
Okay y'all. Get ready. This won't be pretty.
Let me preface this review by saying that thanks to the Lizzie Bennett Diary adaption and of course the original novel, I love the characters of Pride and Prejudice. So when I read this novel, it almost felt like a personal affront when the characters weren't (in my humble but loud opinion) done right.
The characters were two dimensional, transparent paper dolls who actions made no sense because they had no depth. Skip character development-- for that to happen you need to establish a baseline character, you need to understand why they do what they do, why they love who they love, something the book devoted zero time towards. Mere outlines of characters were put forth, leaving to the reader the exercise of filling in the rest, relying on Jane Austen's handiwork.
You see, taking on an adaptation is only for sadistic authors because at the end of the day your work is going to be compared against Jane Austen's and really, it is difficult to not be found lacking. Jane Austen's novel made me laugh out loud and while I sometimes disagreed with the character's actions, I always understood why they did what they did. When Charlotte ((SPOILER Y'ALL)) goes off to marry Collins part of me complains and throws up a fight, while part of me understands why this is happening, and what about Charlotte's character caused this outcome. In Eligible, Charlotte's actions are confusing and illogical-- without the backbone of a character, the actions make no sense.
The timing in Eligible skipped and skidded like a needle skipping tracks on a record establishing a rocky pace that never made sense. There were 181 chapters in this 500 page book, some no longer than a paragraph, whatever the minimum required to push the plot forward was exerted.
It wasn't awful-- it was too boring to illicit such strong emotions. But with all that being said, reading Eligible was sort of like munching on a bag of potato chips while watching reality TV. It was an easy read and the pages flew by but I felt that kind of hazy guilt associated with watching trashy reality TV. I don't necessarily regret reading it, but only because I can use this poor example of adaption to contrast with truly skilled adaptations (post to come!). I will say that some people on Goodreads have brought up the really important fact that there were things in this novel that were actually objectionable. Minority characters are thrown in haphazardly for nothing else except for a look-at-me-I'm-diverse pat on the back.
The only reason that I pushed through to the end and did not give up on the book was to see how the author was going to interpretation the main story elements. Modernization is a tricky beast and a skill the author did unreliably. I did enjoy how she presented the Bennett family's financial difficulties, that felt authentic. I did not like how she handled Lydia's story arc but to be honest I have a real soft spot for Lydia so I admit I had unreal expectations. She did decent on the Darcy-declares-his-love moment but wrote Wickham in a really odd way, creating this almost throwaway character which wasn't as influential and important as the original was.
In conclusion, my advice is to move on and find another adaption of Pride and Prejudice and forgo Eligible. To each his own and all that, but still, there are so many better less boring novels out there, novels that actually have fully fleshed out characters.
What about you? What's your favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptation? Or do you prefer the original novel?