Eligible–Curtis Sittenfeld (Audiobook)

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I guess it’s very nineteenth-century of Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld to publish under a male pseudonym, and I realize it’s her authorial name, but it struck me as odd for a piece in the Austen project, given that Austen was one of the first to publish as a woman and forego the fiction of male authorship.

Some reviewers have panned this book, some because it’s an Austen remake.  As someone who absolutely adores Pride & Prejudice, I would never dismiss someone for writing an Austen homage novel.  I enjoyed listening to this novel because I love Pride & Prejudice and all of the characters, but there were several elements of this remake that I did not enjoy or that puzzled me.

First, the sexual tension (or ST, as it is referred to in Eligible), is crucial to Pride & Prejudice.  How can there be that tension when Darcy and Liz sleep together so early in the novel–and in such an anticlimactic way?  That was seriously disappointing and contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for the rest of the novel. I do not object to the more modern nature of the conceit–I object to the fact that the conceit was not carried out in a way to retain the tension crucial to the original–the whole reason, likely, that readers have continued to make this Austen’s most popular novel.  I wanted to see what Sittenfeld was going to do.  I did not care that much about the two characters “finally” getting together because they had already gotten together.

Sittenfeld’s Liz Bennett is true to the primary character traits found in Austen’s Liz for the most part, but she is just less likable and, at times, less believable.  She cannot stand Darcy, but spills her guts to him when they meet up during a run and then, oops, realizes to whom she is talking.  Liz is a journalist and lives in New York City, so presumably is fairly sophisticated, but when she learns her new brother-in-law is transgender, she asks a ridiculous question about his genitalia and seems more like her Midwestern backward mother than the urbane woman Sittenfeld is trying to portray.

Mrs. Bennett is racist, a lovely characteristic, and a shopaholic.  She avidly desires her daughters to marry, but reacts very poorly to Lydia marrying a handsome, successful man because he is transgender.  Sittenfeld’s situation here, a replacement for Wickham’s abduction of the underage and desperately naive Lydia, just does not work.  It makes Mrs. Bennett too awful and Darcy’s intervention underwhelming and uncompelling.  It also makes the crucial scene where Liz receives the letter about Lydia’s abduction and Darcy’s reaction to it, which she misreads so terribly, also not work in Sittenfeld’s version.  The stakes are too low, the situation too ridiculous, even if likely in today’s conservative Midwest.

Throughout the novel, Lydia accuses Mary of being a lesbian.  When Mary learns that Lydia has married a transgender man, she gleefully calls Lydia a lesbian. Again, tone deaf on this whole sexual identity issue.  Most bizarrely, Sittenfeld ends the novel with a profile of Mary including her choice of dildo, frequency of its use, personal hygiene practices (no shaving) that seems to be mocking the only woman in the novel who does not follow at least some element of conventional femininity.  Mary cannot just be a woman content to be herself with her own independent pursuits.  She must be a caricature of a feminist, although a feminist who definitely does not want to be thought to be a lesbian and who relishes calling her sister one for marrying a transgender man.  Ugh.

That this is the Pride & Prejudice chapter in the Austen Project is seriously disappointing.  That this was published to such fanfare is seriously disappointing.  Regardless, my family did not see me without headphones, finding excuses to listen to the book (biking, gardening, cleaning) for several days as I lost myself, again, in the story of Liz and Darcy.  God help us if this becomes a movie, but I fear it may.

Finished 8/11/16

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

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As a HUGE fan of Pride and Prejudice, I was intrigued by the premise, but had to fight my annoyance at the fact that Grahame-Smith had been handed an idea and played cut and paste with some zombie bits to create this pretty popular variation.

I won’t lie.  This annoyance resurfaced at moments throughout the novel.  Until I hit this exchange during the infamous visit to Pemberley with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner:

“She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him.  ‘Your balls, Mr. Darcy?’  He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, ‘They belong to you, Miss Bennet.”

How could I not be seduced by such open mockery of the beloved love story?  This seduction was sealed in the Reader’s Discussion Guide, in which question #7 reads: “Does Mrs. Bennet have a single redeeming quality?”  

Grahame-Smith leaves intact entire beloved paragraphs, but his Bennet girls are zombie killers who hone their fighting skills rather than embroidery and piano.  Instead of being confined to Longbourn, they have traveled to China to study with a martial arts master.  When Mr. Darcy first proposes, Elizabeth Bennet smashes his head into the mantel rather than eviscerating him with her tongue.  This was not appealing to me, but it reeled in my pre-teen son, who would not have touched Pride and Prejudice with a ten-foot pole had it not included zombies.  In the end, many readers may be left with the last discussion guide question, “Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?”

Finished 11/12/13

 

Pemberley to Waterloo: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary Vol. 2–Anna Elliott

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I have read these chronicles from Anna Elliott completely out of order, but that was part of the appeal.  I do not know if I would have had as much patience with Kitty Bennet’s silliness otherwise:)

Volume 2 of Elliott’s Pride and Prejudice continuation takes Georgiana and Kitty from the balls and daily concerns of England and the life of the elite to Brussels and the horrors of Waterloo.  Elizabeth gives birth to she and Darcy’s first child and Caroline Bingley finds love, and some humanity.  

I recommend the three volumes as a unit if you are a Pride and Prejudice fan.  This volume is a particularly quick read.

Finished 8/6/13

Georgiana Darcy’s Diary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continued–Anna Elliott (eBook)

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Ok, so I’m lost in Jane Austen’s England.  Again.  For me it’s like eating a whole batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, but without the saddlebags afterwards.

After reading volume three of Anna Elliott’s Jane Austen continuation, I checked her website and saw that volume one is available for free from your favorite eBook retailer, so I headed to Amazon (like getting a spoon out of the drawer) and downloaded.

What a treat.  In volume one, Elliott focuses on Georgiana Darcy, but the fun comes with Anna de Bourgh, whom Georgiana makes her own project.  This plot device echoes that of Kitty making Mary her project in volume three, but it was still fun to see this almost non-existent character fleshed out and given her own story line.  There was also a fun twist with Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Caroline Bingley, two women Austen fans love to dislike.

This diary is another quick read in diary form.  There are a few moments of awkward prose when Georgiana is trying to justify describing in her diary people she obviously knows and would have discussed previously in her diary, but those moments pass quickly.

Finished 8/5/13

Kitty Bennet’s Diary–Anna Elliott

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This is the third in a series of Pride and Prejudice Chronicles.  In the first two Kitty Bennet is engaged in silly and scandalous behavior, engaged to John Ayres, whose prospects are okay, but not wonderful and with whom she is in friendship, but not love; then drawn into a whirlwind flirtation with a cad and off to Brussels nursing the wounded of Waterloo in atonement.

The Kitty of this volume is still lively and prone to laughter with children, but more serious with adults and much more likable than the Kitty of Pride and Prejudice.  She has learned to moderate her behavior and, through the course of the diary, describes her efforts to moderate her tongue.  She has seen a bigger life than that of Meryton and her small social circle and become a woman rather than a silly girl.

She and Mary are in London staying with their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.  Georgiana and Edward Fitzwilliam are also in town and a very pregnant Jane comes to stay with her young daughter, Amelia, under mysterious circumstances.  Unraveling these circumstances, seeing her through to safe delivery of her child, trying to marry off Mary and then trying to keep her from ruin at the hands of the same cad who nearly ruined Kitty herself, all while falling in love with Lancelot Dalton occupy Kitty’s days and the accounts in her diary.

Anna Elliott’s continuation of Jane Austen’s characters is believable and enjoyable for a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice and her spotlight on the horrors and consequences of Waterloo as well as the social inequalities of London society are a welcome addition to the Austen scenery.

Finished 8/4/13

Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–Jennifer Becton (e-book)

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I’m a serious sucker for anything Pride and Prejudice and this novel’s premise, following Charlotte after the death of the dreadful Mr. Collins, intrigued me.  Becton created a likeable continuation of Charlotte and recreated the pride and prejudice theme of mistaken first impressions and their near-ruinous consequences.  Charlotte reenters the society of Westerham in order to chaperone her younger sister, Maria Lucas, in hopes of finding her a husband.  Charlotte’s pragmatic view of marriage was challenged by Elizabeth Bennett’s love marriage to Mr. Darcy, and she now hopes for that love for her sister, Maria.  After Charlotte sheds her widow’s weeds, she is surprised at the attention of some of the men in Westerham society and slowly begins to consider a chance at love for herself.  An American, Mr. Basford, chaperoning his young nephew, Mr. Westerfield, provides Charlotte’s Mr. Darcy.  Unlike Darcy, however, Basford is too loose, nearly uncouth for provincial Westerham.  Events reveal, however, that those who seemed true gentlemen were scoundrels and those who seemed ungentlemanly were the true gems.  

Overall, Charlotte Collins is one of the better P&P sequels I have read.  It’s not a brain bender, but a fun dive back into the world of provincial Austen society for those seeking such an escape.

Finished 7/28/13

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World–Abigail Reynolds

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I’ll be honest.  I grabbed this book in desperation before a weekend trip out of town after coming up empty handed with three attempts in the online catalogue.  Sort of a last book in the world moment.  My library had a Jane Austen themed end cap display and this was one of the books.  I’m an Austen fiend, so I thought, what the hell, it’s embarrassing and probably awful, but it’s something for the plane and I at least like the idea of it.

The idea of it is that Elizabeth Bennet says yes to Mr. Darcy when he first proposes, but not because she is in love with him.  Could she, then, have fallen in love with him after their marriage?

This Pride and Prejudice variation (as it is styled) gives Austen fans the same misunderstandings, longing looks, hurt feelings, and built-up sexual tension that women of my kind live for.  Perfect plane reading.

It’s not a terrible book.  It’s not a great book.  It’s creative and fun and when it was over I wanted more, as always, of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I guess that’s the best compliment an Austen fan can give.

Finished 1/24/13