I’m a well-documented fan of Jane Austen’s work, and Prep was one of the first works of “adult fiction” I ever read, as a young and highly impressionable seventh grader (in retrospect, much like my attempted foray into adult literature in sixth grade, when I selected Life of Pi as my Book Buddies read, it, was, perhaps, premature). When Eligible was touted as an expertly reworked “modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice,” there was no way I was passing up that pre-order.
Set primarily in Ohio, Eligible follows, yes, the five Bennet sisters, particularly the eldest two, Jane and Elizabeth [Lizzy], who Mrs. Bennet is desperate to marry off. While the three youngest sisters live, unemployed and rent-free, and seemingly focused on nothing but fitness and social media trends, Lizzy and Jane also return home for the summer after their father suffers an unexpected heart attack. When Chip Bingley, a surgeon who doubled as last season’s star of this book’s version of The Bachelor, called Eligible, moves to Ohio for a hospital residency, Mrs. Bennet is convinced she has found Jane’s new husband. As it happens, Jane takes a liking to Chip as well, and they instantly hit it off—until an unexpected twist of fate may prevent Jane for her happily ever after. In a parallel plotline, Lizzy Bennet has spent years in a complicated relationship with a “technically married” man back in New York, but when—you guessed it—she meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a man she finds infuriating but unshakable at the same time.
If you’ve read Pride & Prejudice, you know how it all ends—but Sittenfeld expertly navigates the fine line between adherence to Austen’s script and an incorporation of modernity that renders the book believable in its 2013 setting. I must say, if I were making a bracket, I’d place Eligible at the very top of the beach read pyramid.