I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and so I was very interested when I heard about The Austen Project: a plan to retell Austen’s six novels set in modern times, and reinterpreted by six different contemporary authors.
I enjoyed the modern version of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trolloppe. But then I pretty much gave up on the project after reading Val McDermid’s Northangar Abbey.
Nevertheless, I was tempted back when I saw my favorite Austen novel – Pride and Prejudice – was to be reimagined by author Curtis Sittenfield. After all, I enjoyed Sittenfield’s Prep and American Wife. It seemed a shame to pass on this novel.
After reading it, I can only say I wish I’d stuck to my earlier resolve to stay far, far away.
For the first few pages, it was fun to see the Bennet family through a modern lens. There is no Longbourne, but a family house and trust fund squandered through the years. In modern times, a country gentleman with ten-thousand a year becomes a surgeon with a Harvard medical degree. By the time we ticked off the boxes for a Bachelor-type reality show contestant, IVF, anorexia, and marriage to a trans, I’d tired of the whole exercise.
The real problem with the novel is that its protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who has embodied the image of an intelligent, opinionated, and deeply spirited woman to readers for the past two centuries, emerges here as, well, a cold fish.
This novel’s Liz believes she’s intelligent, but she emerges from the page as annoying, snarky and incredibly unlikable. The warm relationships she had with her sister Jane, her friend Charlotte, and her aunt in Pride and Prejudice are all superficial in this version. She pays lots of money for the upkeep of her family – and we receive every detail of these financial transactions – but she still manages to comes off as cold and aloof. Even her attraction to Wickham and the discovery that he’s a cad is one big let-down.
By mid-novel I couldn’t stand the protagonist. By the end of the novel I was mentally warning Darcy to make his escape. Alas, no such luck.
Think I’ll go back and enjoy the original. If I want an enjoyable modern version, I’ll stick with Bridget Jones.