Review of ‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld

imageThanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the ARC of this book.

‘Eligible’ is a retelling of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in which the setting is transplanted to modern day Cincinnati. I’d forgotten this was the premise and so got quite a surprise when I started reading the book and was launched into a familiar description of the Bennet family. It was like putting on a snuggly warm jumper and settling down on a comfy sofa in front of a roaring fire to watch a favourite film you have seen a hundred times; utterly familiar and delightfully comforting.

I’m not entirely sure why it is necessary to rewrite classics in modern settings when people could just read the original novel. However, I did enjoy this book. Even though you pretty much know exactly how the story will play out it is still a fun read and is interesting to see how Sittenfeld masters some of the challenges of setting the story in the modern era. For example instead off eloping with a cad, Lydia elopes with a transgender man and the reason Jane and Bingley must get married so quickly after meeting is that it is part of a reality TV show.

The experience feels like reading a book when you’ve already seen the movie adaptation but the book’s slightly different from the film. Nothing is a surprise, but you can still derive enjoyment from it.

Probably the biggest challenge for Sittenfeld is making Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship believable and desirable, because in this modern feminist era it should no longer be appealing to have a hero who is consistently rude and patronising to the heroine. I don’t think she quite pulls it off because she overcompensates by making Lizzy even ruder to Darcy; however it does help that in a modern setting the two characters are able to act on their sexual tension and start having sex long before they fall in love with each other. This is definitely a dynamic to their relationship which makes it seem more realistic and which Austen could never have used in her original.

All in all, you should probably read the original, and I assume this retelling aims to get more people to do that, but this book is a fun read which I think does the original work justice and which I expect Austen fans would enjoy.

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Review of ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

Hooray, I’ve finally found time to sit down and read this enormous book and finish this trilogy! It feels like an achievement because these books are so unnecessarily long.

I enjoyed the first in the trilogy but I feel like the final two really needed a thorough edit. They rely on you having such an affection for the characters that you wish to read even the most mind-numbingly dull conversations and lengthy descriptions of situations where nothing really happens. This book is definitely better than the second in the trilogy which suffered from the author wanting to show off all her detailed historical research; however it is still far too verbose and just does not get to the point quickly enough.

I often find that when you read these epic fantasy trilogies that the conclusion feels too easy and the stakes aren’t high enough and there’s never any doubt that everything will be all right in the end. This book definitely suffers from this problem. Everything plays out in quite a muted way and the problems are solved fairly quickly and easily without much tension.

The trilogy also has too many characters and they are picked up and dropped with little explanation. Characters that I thought would be important such as Nathaniel and Sophie barely feature in this book. Characters who were terrifying in the first book such ar Satu are pathetic and easily foiled in this book. It feels like the trilogy was not entirely planned that well from the first book to the last in terms of some of the characters and their development.

I also found the pregnancy and childbirth and babies storyline weak. For most women, being pregnant with twins would be a major consideration and once they were born the mother would be exhausted and able to focus on little else. However, for Diana in this book, her children always feel like an afterthought. A few days are they are born she is jetting of to other countries to save the day and leaving them in the care of others. When they are born she doesn’t even try to feed them straight away. Surely she would want to know as quickly as possible if they could survive on milk or needed blood? None of the childcare elements ring true at all. The pregnancy and children just didn’t feel as important as they should have.

I read this book fairly quickly and easily so I must have enjoyed it, but looking back on it I find it hard to express why as I’m only really coming up with criticisms of it. I think the good faith engendered by my enjoyment of the first book encouraged me to finish the trilogy. I’m glad I did even though I found this book particularly exciting or memorable.