Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This book was recommended to me by a couple of Austen-reading/Janeite colleagues at work.  Mentioned it to a friend, and she gifted it me for my birthday. Have to say this modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice (P&P), was not my cup of tea. To be fair, in general think these modern retellings are difficult for all authors to tackle. Austen loving readers and/or Janeites (myself included), tend to be pretty devoted and fierce in their opinions and feelings about Austen’s characters. Tackling Elizabeth Bennet is quite a challenge. So here is the thing: really didn’t care for this particular updated version of Elizabeth Bennet aka “Liz” quite that much.

This narrative does move along quickly. The book is divided into three (3) sections with very short chapters, some as long as just a single paragraph. Ok spoilers follow.

Set in the modern day United States which still retains a class system and material elite, which the author eludes to on many levels — Jane and Liz Bennet have decamped from the family home in the Midwest, Cincinnati, Ohio to New York City. Jane is a yoga instructor, who clock-ticking, has decided to try to have a baby on her own via artificial insemination, etc. Liz is a former magazine fact checker/editor turned feature/writer at a fictional magazine called Mascara which tends to recall the departed magazine, Mademoiselle which was never as highbrow as Vogue and never quite as lowbrow as Cosmo (feel like Cosmo was alluded to but not named in the text must have been the legal dept.), but Mademoiselle had some literary roots and published a lot of high end short stories and employed certain well known authors, including the likes of Sylvia Plath.

Due to the heart attack of their father, the elder Bennet sisters rush home to Ohio. The family home, “the Tudor” aka Longbourn is still the residence of the three (3) younger Bennet sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Mary a recluse, is a perpetual online student, and Kitty and Lydia don’t work but keep themselves busy with a fitness regime Crossfit. To note, they are depicted as rather rudderless individuals of a certain generation, and my favorite lines involve the Liz character asking Lydia for some stationary to write a belated thank you note, and to paraphrase Lydia answering that she has none/what would she thank anyone for, etc. Nice depiction of generation gap lapse of civility here.

The house is in a bad state, as most older houses always need repairs, plus it has been very much neglected and it is a borderline hoarding zone — due to Mrs. Bennet’s addiction to mail order/catalog shopping. Liz soon learns her folks did not have health insurance, so there is a large medical bill for the heart attack care — a wake up call to the mounting financial family crisis.

To note, Liz also becomes the confidant for everyone in her circle certain at times, which bothered me/struck me more in line with Elinor Dashwood of Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility.

Via a backyard cookout, the elder Bennets meet Chip Bingley an eligible doctor and former reality TV show contestant, apparently infamous for his on-air crying spells. Chip and Jane immediately soul mate hit it off — while Liz has a rude meet cute with Chip’s handsome, surgeon friend Darcy (mansplains much later that he was just saving a seat/requested by his host/perhaps he just should have simply said so to her in the first place — but then we would not have had that bad “First Impression” slash P&P tie-in).

Why the two (2) handsome and wealthy docs have set up shop in a small hospital in Cincinnati is a question, that is never properly answered. Thinking the Cleveland Clinic, well know for heart research/procedures would have been a better choice for the setting, but fiction here, suspending reality etc.  Although not really true to Austen’s spirit, who to her own credit and acknowledge, worked in a very small geographic circle. Liz takes lead in trying to reign in the family chaos, she has her father set up a payment plan for the medical bills, takes steps to clean up the house, and retains a real estate agent all on the down-low from her volatile mother and younger sisters. In the mean time, Jane confirms that she is pregnant not via Chip but from previous baby making efforts, but before she can fully disclose to Chip, he finds out/freaks out and duly decamps for a reality TV reunion show.

The Wickham character here is Jasper Wick — a cutie Liz met at that first NYC gig fact-checking and who kept her in the friend zone forever, but they are now in a bizarre relationship, he being still married/in an open marriage arrangement until his wife inherits money. The jig is up though when he visits Cincinnati for an article, and a night of reunion romance goes very south and Liz gets him to admit that he is sleeping with a young chickie, and finally realizes it is time to cut him lose.

Somewhat tangentially during all this — Liz and Darcy start running into each other almost literally, first at local/beloved chili place and then on evening runs/jogs. Personally don’t think what Liz and her friend Charlotte call ST/sexual tension, really materializes. Their relationship, it’s more like a transaction for a hook up that turns into a routine. What Liz deems “hate sex” and I’m using a euphemism here in the paraphrasing — bedroom buddies w/out the buddies. The sex scenes are compact/perfunctory. And okay, this Liz is a modern woman who wants a physical release/outlet which she initiates, which I don’t default especially since she is in rebound mode post Jasper Wick — but seriously Darcy here is the one from the onset, asking for clarification, i.e. they are only/just friends with (physical) benefits?

And the choice for Darcy as a surgeon I do think was smart. Surgeons in my experience don’t tend to be chatty folks — career choice lines up with Austen’s classic Darcy man/of few words.

However, the whole Jasper/Darcy storyline over Jasper’s being booted out of Stanford fell flat for me — don’t think it really added much to the narrative, tension or otherwise. Again I presume, the author is trying to insert issues about racial intolerance here, but felt this wasn’t really skillfully executed and to me it read more contrived or a device that really didn’t weave well into the larger plot. Clearly, Liz already thought Darcy was a hug snob, she told him so — many times and in many ways, even while backpedaling about how she loves OH but lives in NYC, while sleeping with him, and actively pursuing that bedroom buddies relationship, or “hate sex.” While feelings can be intense, and for better or worse, can be turned around — really felt like something was off and/or missing here with these two in this depicted relationship via her actions.

The declaration scene of Darcy happens when Liz is about to leave Cincinnati for Texas for a work interview — after a long shift Darcy shows up at the door, saying he loves her/cannot stop thinking about her, and despite all his reservations, they must admit that are more than just an ongoing hookup. It’s messy but not a good spin of messy. Liz spitefully answers back, Darcy withdraws saying he thought she would appreciate candor, then Liz ruefully mulls it all over as she interviews a feminist icon Katherine deBourgh — a seemingly Gloria Steinham inspired character w/ no relation to Darcy in this version of P&P.

Then Liz is called to California by friend Charlotte who has taken up with the “Collins” of this P&P aka step cousin Willie, a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire, that Mrs. Bennet was trying to match make with Liz to bail out the family debt & failed terribly. Liz goes into supportive friend mode for Char but via her online Nancy Drew, they go to check out the vast Pemberley Estate in Northern California, bumping into Darcy and his sister Georgiana. The Liz/Darcy reunion/working this all out — ensues but goes awry again. Liz returns to NYC and finally hears from Darcy — setting in motion the reunion of Chip and pregnant Jane–which rapid descends into awful “Reality TV Wedding,” that everyone inexplicably signs on for including Darcy.

The Lydia subplot involves her boyfriend/founder of the Crossfit gym being transgender which I felt was sort of a forced crisis and not well executed. Seems the author here is relying heavily on fly over, hard core stereotypes of folks that are narrow and must be coddled and/or pounded into acceptance of dealing with modern cultural differences, etc. It’s true elderly folks do have issues with change but could have been handled/depicted with a little more finesse. Adding on Kitty’s falling for their real estate agent, who is African-American, was two hits of progression to the alluded to bias and established prejudice of this version of Mrs. Bennet and the stoic Mr. Bennet. Darcy though apparently behind the scene, repairs the Lydia rift by giving the Bennets a faux explanation of a “birth defect” which really isn’t all that acceptable, especially for a medical professional. But okay hey again, it’s fiction, although personally don’t think this [plot line] is going to age well. Handling also of the Caroline Bingley v. Liz tension also was stereotypical and awful. Two (2) women lobbing insults at each other, while competing for a guy directly or indirectly, just not something I am a fan of in life or in fiction.

The reality TV show is well depicted as awful as expected — complete with the reality show producers trying to set up/stage a show down/blow out between Caroline and Liz. But Liz is too savvy even when drunk to bite/take the bait. Eventually, Darcy and Liz switch off their microphones, declare their love and clear up all the misunderstandings. There are a few short chapters afterward to wrap everything else up, ending oddly with Mary, teased throughout the book by Lydia and Kitty, as a closet lesbian, which seems to be foggily resolved as her being either bisexual/asexual but clearly a dedicated bowling team member, and I’m not sure why this all was really part of the narrative/ending at all Again sort of like a tempest in a teapot cliche — especially with some of the other story lines that played out.

Disappointed, if ABC/or someone else adapts it/for television or film, hope they will heavily reedit/rework certain plot lines.

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Book Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud.

Actually won this book via Austenesquereviews(dot)com — which features: “Reviews of Jane Austen Sequels, Para-literature and Fan Fiction.” This book falls I think between the last two (2) categories — it’s sort of a modern day bodice ripper (bodice switched out for leather pants) slash erotica. Technically, there were some issues with typos and editing and I agree with other folks that posted on Goodreads, some of the narrative could have been compressed and/or cut as far as page length.

The premise is to use a musical term, a “riff” off of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — although think if you could switch out and lose the canon of Austen character names (perhaps just keep one for a shout out), this book could stand alone and/or might then have more appeal to certain readers, because then you aren’t doing a Austen comparison, since it’s difficult for many traditional Jane Austen fans or Janeites, as I’ve said before, myself included; to let go of their feelings for Austen’s original characters. Spoilers follow.

To start out, a very successful rock trio Slurry: made up of Darcy, Bingley and Richard (Darcy’s cousin), all men of wealth and privilege (money, educated), but not without their own modern day tragedies (loss of parents, cancer, addiction), have lost their opening act for a national concert tour. The original group included Darcy and Richard’s childhood friend George Wickham — who pushed them to take this musical effort from a creative outlet into something more mainstream.  Eventually they broke through with commercial success, but not before some scandal, and replacing Wickham with California boy Bingley.

So the guys from Slurry go out incognito to see a local/regional New York band called Long Borne Suffering/LBS (this was clever). Not keen to sign up just anyone via CD/pre-recorded tracks they trek out to hear them live. Each of the trio, Darcy (Lead singer/guitar), Bingley (bass) and Richard (drums) are charmed and enamored by the members of LBS: Jane Bennet the singer/bassist (Bingley), her sister Elizabeth Bennet guitar/also sings (Darcy), and their friend Charlotte on drums (Richard).

Soon LBS joins Slurry on tour and we get a glimpse of the drudge and heavy lifting it takes to set up, schedule, break down, and run a national concert tour. Which I have to say is very well done. Grind of traveling via tour buses, harsh scheduling, meet and greets, while losing track of days and looking forward to hotel beds, regular showers — all very well depicted.

To note, especially in 2018 in the age of the #MeToo movement, there is a noted presence/narrative here of sexual harassment in the music industry — the author includes here in a subplot which is handled well, as it is pretty common in the music industry, and gives some insight again into Darcy’s character and integrity.

Darcy is not just a lead/singer musician, first really he is the CEO of Slurry, and also retains control of his dad’s company. He takes the business responsibilities and the lives of all the people in his employment very seriously which is pretty puzzling to Elizabeth to both the discover or grasp. Darcy has a very public bad boy image — we later learn this is really part marketing strategy and part diversion tactic for his friend Bingley as crisis ensued with his father just as he joined the group, and Slurry was becoming nationally/commercially successful.

Darcy as a mass of contradictions to Elizabeth is very well depicted, and in general the idea of Darcy as a rockstar combination CEO is pretty fun. Think it worked on several levels but did not go far enough in others. This Darcy like the original is also the guardian of his younger sister, “Georgie” short for Georgiana we eventually learn was molested by Wickham during their first tour which Darcy continually berates/blames himself and keeps more than a close watch on his little sister — so a modern day updating of Wickham to a pedophile/predator was also very appropriate (because in the original book, Lydia was 15, but folks did marry back then it was pretty common/standard practice).

We follow three (3) romances here:  two (2) of the others take off really before/during/after — Elizabeth even starts to find herself torn between being attracted to Darcy and generally disliking him.  While on tour with these two (2) other couples hooking up, sort of pushes the tension even further between Darcy and Elizabeth. As in the original, Elizabeth never is quite sure where she stands with Darcy.

The author juggles a lot here. Between chapters and sections, the author goes back and forth between the point of view of the different characters. Think it’s helpful when we get Darcy’s point of view to see how he feels about Elizabeth, his own growing attraction to her, how he views her a musician/peer, and his uncertainty about trying to approach her as a potential lover. We also get the insights of some minor/supporting characters which are a little bit spotty and hit or miss at times.

Again, it works with the theme set in the music industry, that there is a larger world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The drugs are a darker element here, as Richard, Darcy’s cousin and their drummer has had struggles to overcome addiction/maintain his sobriety from drugs/alcohol and during this tour, trying to avoid falling in love with Charlotte he overcompensates with groupies and goes back into treatment during the tour break for sex addiction slash the rest of his addictions.

There is a fair amount of sex/erotica in this book and it is quite woman positive, with the major, lead male characters all very connected in being both emotionally and physically intimate.  They seemed determined if not dedicated, to meeting the physical and emotional needs of their female partners, which I find rare outside of genre/fan fiction. Also the idea of having physical relations connected to the intimacy and the emotional relationship you have with your partner — was very well depicted here — and for a twist, it was Darcy calling out Elizabeth on it. And my favorite quote from the book is also from Darcy, discussing the significance of his tattoo and studying classical literature: “I didn’t study it for my career; I studied it for my soul.”  Yes quite swoon-worthy — very nice update, version of the Darcy character.

This version of Elizabeth Bennet though, well I wanted to like her. Like the original she missed many signs and signals, and there were many misunderstandings, but in general but wasn’t really sure about her uncertainty and misgivings sometimes. Generally, think there is where the narrative fell and was a bit weak, and again perhaps some editing would have helped the story and the character development.  Overall, it is a fun read, especially I think if you grew up in the era of MTV, music videos, and VH1’s documentary and biography program:  “Behind the Music.”

Literary Digression: Stumbling upon a friend’s book @ my town’s lovely bookstore and cafe.

So was out and about this morning, doing the usual errands, bank, dry cleaners and post office.  Thought I pop round the Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe, our local bookstore/cafe for a little gift shopping.  It’s a cozy little oasis with a nice selection of multicultural children’s books and other offerings, Y/A, fiction, nonfiction, and bestsellers, as well as local authors and what do I see on the shelf? My friend and indie author, Farha Hasan’s most recent book — Beauty Sleeping — a modern twist/mystical re-telling of the traditional story.  Which is a a fun and fascinating read, especially during the gray days we are dealing with in the middle of winter.  And if you are ever lost between East Boston and the airport, or severely delayed out of Boston’s Logan Airport, with some time to spare set your GPS  and please venture out and pay the Winthrop Book Depot a visit at 11 Somerset Ave. Winthrop, MA 02152.  The Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe is family run, with a menu of coffees, teas, baked goods and treats to enjoy, along with exhibits featuring the work of local artists, as well as special events including author readings and performances.

 

Jane Austen and quoting–all gone wrong?

Quoting is something I like to do.  Actually I send friends, family and colleagues quotes over email, for their birthdays, and also on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Another little tradition have started up and kept going.

It’s quite well known, that Austen with her wicked wit, has her fair share of quotable quips.  They grace stationary and all manner of accessories but this morning my mum was a little upset.  It seems Bill Belichick, coach of the U.S. football team the New England Patriots and his companion Linda Halliday, celebrated Valentine’s Day with a tropical vacation — lovely for them.

Per CBS Sports, Halliday noted the occasion by tweeting a photo of them on the beach and: “Her caption included the following quote: ‘You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love … I love … I love you!'”

Our local CBS affiliate here in Boston, WBZ* cited the quote as belonging to Jane Austen.

Thus upsetting my mum on several levels.

Because the words just did set right with her.

She could not quite remember what they said on the air — to tell me.

Kept saying it included over and over, “I love you.”  Which didn’t ring true to me.

So I promised to search online when I had a moment at work today, which I did.

First I found the article  about their vacation and the tweet, then realized the quote was probably from the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie (2005) adaptation with Keira Knightley in the role of Elizabeth Bennet.

“Bewitched” is kind of a deal breaker here.  Right now I’m without free access to the Oxford English Dictionary, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of word that would not have been used during the Regency by any author in a positive context.

With a little more searching I was able to confirm it —  “You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.  I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  These were Mr. Darcy’s lines spoken by actor Matthew Macfadyn, and written by screenwriter Deborah Moggach.  Sources are writer and Janeite, Deborah Yaffe’s blog/website and also the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)/Amazon.

Most Janeites are familiar with Austen’s original scene and dialogue, where Mr. Darcy says to Elizabeth: “You are too generous to trifle with me.  If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once.  My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”

Austen continues the scene but only with description and not specific dialogue: “Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently gave him to understand, that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he had alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances.  The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had never felt before and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”

Austen excerpts from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Penguin Classics 1985.

To be clear, I’m not slighting Ms. Moggach’s work, I enjoyed her script, and personally the only part of the 2005 film, that I disliked was the reworking/reimagining of the scene at Pemberley.

Moggach’s interpretation of Austen are expanded and quite romantic but I still prefer the original dialogue.

*Full disclosure, I was an assignment desk intern at WBZ-TV in Boston during the summer of 1991, but at that time it was an NBC not a CBS affiliate.

 

 

Emerson College, Boston–Theater Production of Pride and Prejudice December 1-9, 2017

Via Opus Affair Boston — Emerson College is putting on a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice during the week of December 1-9, 2017.  This is the first I heard of it, or perhaps would have tried to get to get tickets (well you never know there is still time).  Tickets are $12.00 US.  For more info. on this production link/url is below

https://emersontheatres.org/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=0F82E703-FD5A-490E-A32C-982D2F1CCAC0