ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld

Imitation, they say, is the greatest form of flattery. And so the decision by Harper Collins to commission well known modern authors to rewrite six of Jane Austen's novels would seem to be a winner. On looking at reviews of the first three modernised novels - Emma, Sense and Sensibility,  and Northanger Abbey, this would appear to not be the case. Mixed reviews probably an understatement. This one, however, which in case you hadn't figured it out by the title, is Pride and Prejudice revisited, and is a marvellous read, overall favourably reviewed too by the good and the great of the book review world.

The P and P story is so well known, having made it to TV and film in many different versions, that we all have in our mind's eye how we visualise the characters to be. So naturally, we are constantly going to be making comparisons with the original story, and all the remakes since. But that is half of the fun of reading this - comparing and contrasting. Like being with an old friend who has modified and been modified over the years.

A number of things are different however. Firstly the setting. Not England at all,  but present day Cincinnati, Ohio where the author comes from. Mr and Mrs Bennet live in a nice suburb, in a very large inherited family home, with the three younger daughters - Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Mary is doing yet another on line degree; Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed and mischievous as they were 200 years ago.  Liz and Jane are 38 and 40 respectively, have successful careers and live in New York, Liz hopelessly in love with modern day rat Jasper Wickes, and single Jane going through a donor insemmination process. The Bennets' dire financial situation only comes to light when Liz and Jane return to Cincinnati after their father has open heart surgery. Next door to the Bennets live, surprise, the Lucas's and Charlotte of course. Mr Collins turns up in the form of a 'cousin' and IT nerd from Silicone Valley. Darcy and Bingley naturally, being the most desired men in the piece, have been recreated as surgeons who have taken up important positions at the local hospital. Chip Bingley made an interesting decision  a year or two before the story begins to go on the reality TV show 'Eligible' -  you guessed it - 'The Bachelor' renamed. Such a clever little plot device.

Aaah, the search for true love takes a many and varied form indeed. Even though the time difference is 200 years, the story is as timeless as ever. Reality TV, sperm donors, Cross Fit, friends with benefits, yoga, transgender, racism and bigotry, insect infestations - all the bits and pieces that are part of the modern chaotic world we live in are all here. The author is very clever with how she has kept the core story, and yet changed, tweaked and shifted that story into a very relevant, modern and easily relatable novel. The dialogue does not sparkle as much as Jane Austen's, at times I did have trouble finding the chemistry between Liz (I kept calling her Lizzie, such a nicer name) and Darcy, some of the plot developments were insane, but in the end I didn't really care. Because it is all such an entertainment, such a romp, and so delicious to escape into. Oh and one more thing, you must, absolutely must, read it with a glass of wine in hand. It is just that much better!

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