The Borough Press, £14.99 We think of Jane Austen as a painter of literary miniatures, but her letters to her sister, Cassandra, are notably trenchant and it is tempting to speculate on the terms in which she might have described the myriad spin-offs that her novels have inspired.
The latest of these, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, is an updated version of Pride and Prejudice. After their father suffers a heart attack the elder Bennet girls, Jane (40) and Liz (38), take leave from their jobs in Manhattan, where Jane teaches yoga and Liz writes for a women’s magazine, and return to the family home in suburban Cincinnati. There they find their mother in a ferment of excitement about a handsome local bachelor, Chip Bingley—a Harvard-educated doctor and star of Eligible, a popular reality television dating programme.
Also fluttering the hearts of Cincinnati’s spinsters is Chip’s chum, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a haughty neurosurgeon to whom Liz briskly proposes “hate sex”—a bad-tempered but energetic coupling that leads inexorably to her becoming mistress of his heart and vast fortune.
Sittenfeld is the author of novels including American Wife (2008), based on the life of former US First Lady, Laura Bush. Her version of Austen’s novel explores a variety of tricky modern social conundrums, from Lydia Bennet’s marriage to a transgender gym owner. But the overall effect is less a miniature on ivory, more a Pride and Prejudice-themed colouring book, whose outlines are filled in with a cheerfully garish set of felt-tip pens.