I really should’ve read Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and McCall Smith’s Emma before I read this, but getting my hands on a galley/uncorrected proof copy from Random House* sort of made that a moot point. Perhaps I’ll read the other two soon as I loved this one so much. Needless to say, I’m proud I saved it for as long as I did. I always get a bit nervous when an uncorrected proof has in big bold letters “DO NOT PUBLISH YOUR RESPONSE BEFORE X DATE.”
I mean I get it, but it’s still like you want me to read this book and then keep mum on it. How is that possible!? It’s 1) Jane Austen, 2) ADORABLE and 3) hilariously modern in a way only Jane Austen can be made so. I’ll go ahead and warn you that this response isn’t all sunshine and roses though. I will say I was hesitant of the name-change from the original, but as I read it I was convinced with the okay-ness of it. There is a tangent later that is not a reflection of the book, but of some of the stupid comments I’ve seen recently of The Austen Project adaptations.
Lets start with this happening:
I mean hello!? Big-time author who I may-or-may-not have freaked out about when I heard her on Ask Me Another! [NPR link] responds to my Tweet, swoon. It never gets old. My experience with Sittenfeld’s work: I read Prep a LONG time ago (because I was/am obsessed with boarding/prep schools), but only have a vague recollection. That being said I need to obviously re-read it because I loved this adaptation so much!
Where Sittenfeld found success when so many Austen fan-fictions don’t (let’s not quibble, they’re all fan-fictions even those published from reputable publishers by reputable authors) is that she made it her own. The story is there, the characters are there and the wit and sass are there, but it’s her interpretation of Austen
I’ve read SO many Austen adaptations and have so many more to go, but as a modern take this is one of the best. I’ll be honest and say I think a lot has to do with the LGBT [See pretty much ALL the quotes below – Mary as asexual = hilarious] references (which I felt Messina shied away from in Prejudice & Pride), but I also just think the general irreverence Sittenfeld brought to the work.
“‘It’s probably an illusion caused by the release of oxytocin during sex,’ Darcy continued, ‘but I feel as if I’m in love with you. You’re not beautiful, and you aren’t nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition. And your family, obviously, is a disgrace. Yet in spite of all common sense, I can’t stop thinking about you. The time has come for us to abandon this ridiculous pretense of hate sex and admit that we’re a couple.’ Darcy had delivered this monologue stiffly, while mostly avoiding eye contact, but when he was finished, he looked expectantly at Liz.” (Chapter 108)
This speech by Darcy. THE speech by Darcy, had me in stitches. I mean come-on! She didn’t have to modernize the speech (the language would’ve been enough), but she did and she did it excellently. And then this:
“It was as she returned to herself that it occurred to her to wonder whether what they were doing counted as cuddling; surely, even if hate sex permitted kissing, cuddling was a violation.” (Chapter 87)
I mean these are legitimate questions that would come up in a relationship/friendship/other-type of thing I shouldn’t write explicitly on my blog in the 2010s.
Now for the tangent. [Skip to the Recommendation if you’re not interested.] I don’t know whether to be mad at the readers of The Austen Project or mad at the Austen scholars. When it comes to a classic that is so iconic as any of Austen’s works I tend to think of people in two camps similar to law people and the Constitution. The people who believe it should be exactly what it says and those that believe it’s there to provide a frame-work. A lot of this wrath revolves around a comment on McDermid’s Northanger Abbey where someone was incredulous a teenage girl might think a modern person is a vampire. The person completely missed the point, whether they even knew it or not, that Austen was eviscerating the fad-genre of the time (AKA Gothic Romance) with her work and McDermid chose to do the same with (one of the) current genres, Paranormal Romance.
The ONLY reason I bring this up in this review is that I can see some of these same people having issues with Sittenfeld’s inclusion of openly LGBT characters. Without going into any spoilers, the fact that these characters are accepted and loved and successful and normal (whatever that means) could be “problematic” for some people. Maybe I’m just wrong and spent too much time mulling over that Northanger Abbey comment, but it made me a bit worried when I read this and realized how great Sittenfeld’s adaptation was.
Recommendation: I would recommend this to anyone! It’s incredibly readable and I think it’s a great introduction to Jane Austen AND Jane Austen fan-fiction. It’s similar to how I view the graphic-novel adaptations, hopefully they will encourage someone who has never read them to seek out the source material and then find the wonders of Austen on their own. Plus any book that has realistic LGBT characters readers can identify with will ALWAYS get my vote.
Opening Line: “Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.”
Closing Line: “Her sisters, she thought, could have their crushes and courtships, their histrionics and reconciliations. For Mary, this was heaven.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. No goods or money were exchanged in return for my honest opinion.
Additional Quotes from Eligible
“Alas, Teddy’s dawning awareness of his attraction to other men ultimately precluded a permanent union with Jane, though Jane and her erstwhile fiancé did part on good terms, and once or twice a year, both Liz and Jane would meet Teddy and his toothsome partner, Patrick, for brunch.” (Chapter 3)
“Liz had concluded some years earlier that Mary wasn’t interesting enough to be gay. All the gay people Liz knew in New York, both men and women, were a little more something than average—a little more thoughtful or stylish or funny—though perhaps, Liz reflected, it was New York itself rather than gayness that accounted for their extra appeal.” (Chapter 18)
“She gestured to the right, and as she did, she felt for the first time a peculiar awareness of the fact that she had just confided in Darcy (in Darcy) and he had listened, mostly with respect. The awareness was not entirely agreeable, and was perhaps why she said what she did before peeling away. She called, ‘Have a good night in the shithole that’s Cincinnati!'” (Chapter 73)
“In the basement, keeping in mind Shane’s advice to skip a true reckoning in favor of efficiency, Liz shoved Christmas lights into a file cabinet and badminton set into an old suitcase with a broken zipper. She vowed as she worked to immediately recycle the magazines she’d let accumulate in her apartment the minute she returned to New York, as well as to sort through her closet and donate to Goodwill everything she hadn’t worn in the last year.” (Chapter 78)
“Lizzy, nothing could bring me greater happiness than to have you staying at my house, freaking out about a boy.” (Chapter 122)
“Surely, if Liz had learned that anybody in her social circle in New York had eloped with someone transgender, she’d have greeted the news with support; she might even have felt that self-congratulatory pride that heterosexual white people are known to experience due to proximate diversity.” (Chapter 131)
“In the air over the wheat fields of Kansas, Liz had concluded that if a Cincinnatian could reinvent herself as a New Yorker, if a child who kept a diary and liked to read could ultimately declare that she was a professional writer, then why was gender not also mutable and elective? The enduring mystery of Ham, really, was how he managed to stand Lydia’s company and how he now planned to do so for a lifetime.” (Chapter 131)
“She felt a retroactive remorse for all the Eligible contestants she’d deemed trashy and idiotic from the comfort of her living room; apparently like teriyaki pizza and bee venom facials, getting wasted on a reality-TV show was not to be knocked until tried.” (Chapter 172)