I’m not sure where to put this one. It agitated me from the beginning because of its portrayal of fundraising professionals (more on that later), but Messina’s interpretation of Austen’s wit may or may not have made up for that (I’m still trying to determine that for sure).
We all know I love some Jane Austen fan-fiction and I just got a new Wuthering Heights fan-fiction novel so when the publicist* for the novel reached out to me with a copy** of this novel mentioning the upcoming Curtis Sittenfeld adaptation, Eligible, for The Austen Project, I knew I had to say yes. I’m still not sure about the cover because it’s just a bit too disjointed for me, but you know what they say about not judging a book by its cover right?
From the start I liked the gender swapping premise of the novel. I wasn’t sure how it would work out but overall it seemed to work seamlessly. I didn’t fully understand why some gender roles were swapped and some weren’t, but overall it did work. I will say I was a bit surprised that the first (and only) gay character, the modern Mr. Collins, didn’t appear until about half way through and I think it was a lost opportunity. Messina missed some comedy gold where Collins could have fallen in love with Bennet under miscommunication and then he still could’ve pushed the boundaries more with Bennet having a gay best friend. The other updates also made sense like acknowledging the smallness of the world and ease of travel and setting the story in NYC.
Now for the fundraising parts that irked me, but also rang true. I won’t lie and say I’ve never worked for a Meryton (crazy ass over-the-top person with no filter), but I also won’t name names or organizations. Perhaps NYC is different and perhaps Major Gifts fundraising is different, but of ANY of the things that happened, in this novel happened with a donor I’ve ever interacted with (up to those who give in the six to seven-figure range) they would be floored. I’m guessing this is just Messina’s interpretation of the original Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s ridiculousness! That being said, she was still really harsh,
“The legal version of grifting is raising funds for an institution or cause, so it’s fitting—or ironic—that Lydon is in the perfect place to get the experience he needs to succeed in the profession for which he’s most suited.” (16)
And to be fair I’ve met my fair share of wheeling and dealing fundraising “professionals,” but ouch. I’m not sure what fundraising professional crossed Messina, but clearly they’re not representational of the field as a whole 😀
And then she hit something on the head that I’ve been thinking about for a while,
“His conversations were enlightening. He had a lively sense of humor and gave his opinion freely without wondering how it would be received, something she admired and didn’t expect from a perpetual supplicant. Sticking to your guns and pleading for money rarely go hand in hand.” (37)
I mean I’ve mentioned that I’m not a fan of small talk and I most definitely do not enjoy it when people exaggerate/over-inflate/blatantly lie about numbers, so maybe I’m in the wrong field as it is. Perhaps I should be an accountant or switch over to the development operations side of this field.
Isn’t it interesting how a Jane Austen inspired fanfiction novel can cause so many questions. I think that’s less about Austen or fan fiction and more about Messina’s ability to write a novel that is intriguing and original.
Recommendation: I think it’s worth it. Even if you’re not a fan of Austen it’s well written and there was enough comedy to make me laugh on multiple occasions. She missed a big opportunity with Mr. Collins, but overall I enjoyed her modern take on this classic.
*I’m still trying to figure out whether this is self-published. When I attempted to find information on either the publisher or the publicity agent all websites led to dead ends. I’m pretty sure it is, or it’s at least a boutique press, but if it is Messina should be more open about it as it’s one of the best written, edited and proofed self-published novels I’ve interacted with.
**I was provided a copy of the book in return for my honest opinion and I received no compensation.
Opening Line: “Bennet Bethle is heartily sick of universally acknowledged truths.”
Closing Line: “And yet somehow it does.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)