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Can there ever be too much exposure to Darcy and Elizabeth?

Best-selling American author Curtis Sittenfeld thinks not. Talking of her new novel, Eligible, she says “I wanted (my book) to be an homage to Pride and Prejudice.  But I didn’t want it to be so similar that it didn’t contain surprises.”

Eligible is part of the Austen Project announced in 2011 by Harper Collins. First came Joanna Trollope’s contemporary version of Sense and Sensibility; then Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey; followed by Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma.

None of these have been particularly well received, but Sittenfeld has written about the vexed question of class before, in American Wife, based on former first lady, Laura Bush. She thinks placing the story in contemporary America is valid. “The pressure to get married, or have children, still exists, it just exists much later,” she says. “I didn’t want to make the characters identical, but I did want to be able to use the same adjectives to describe them. So you could still say of my Darcy that he is smart, aloof, a little bit rude, but very ethical. Or of my Liz that she is bright, funny and inquisitive, but maybe a little antagonistic in some situations.”

Here is her opening:

“Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.”

I guess this book will be like Marmite: you will either loathe or love it (with Austen purists almost certainly in the former category), but my appetite has been whetted.

The book will be out on April 21.