by Curtis Sittenfeld
Pride and Prejudice is one of the great classics of English literature and undoubtedly Jane Austen’s most loved novel. Revisiting the Bennet family as part of the Austen Project is no easy task, But Curtis Sittenfeld takes on the challenge with some relish it seems. Not only does she transpose Austen’s most dysfunctional family into the twenty-first century, but she also manages to relocate them several thousand miles to the North American city of Cincinnati. Now I have to say that I was immediately put on my guard but such a bold move. The Bennet’s and their friends have always seemed to be the most English of communities. How could they ever be American? But once you begin to look at the characters, their lives, their prejudices and the social circles they move in, they just don’t exist in the UK anymore, but it seems they are alive and well and making a nuisance of themselves in Cincinnati.
In their new surroundings, Liz is a magazine writer and Jane is a yoga teacher. They both live in New York but have returned to their hometown following their father’s recent health scare. Once they are back home the book follows the themes and general plot of the original story, but in some unexpected ways. Whilst the fundamental characters remain the same, the prejudices they face are very different indeed from those envisioned by Jane Austen in her original book. This new version tackles everything from class to racial and gender issues. In many ways it is like a mini soap opera with a whole host of twists and turns.
Whilst I enjoyed this modernisation of one of my favourite books, I did find it a little uncomfortable at times and through it lacked a little of the clever observational wit that made the original so endearing – and enduring. Of the books in this series, this is the one I felt the least connected with. Whilst the characters by and large remain true to Austen’s original creations, the twists ion the plot I found too far removed. That is not to say I didn’t like the book – I did. Sittenfeld is an accomplished and compelling writer but I sometimes felt she had her own agenda that had nothing to do with Austen’s classic. Although I haven’t read any of her other books I am sure I will before too long.