It’s been a while since I’ve done a book recommendation post. It’s not that I haven’t read anything worth recommending; I have. More, it’s that I haven’t read anything that I felt like compelled to recommend. Until now.
It’s no secret that I love Jane Austen. Jane Austen is the romance novel OG (we can talk later about why that is not a backhanded compliment), and her books are like perfect little marvels. They’re elegantly constructed and delicate without seeming insubstantial. Nothing insubstantial could remain so popular after literal centuries.
And because they’re such delightfully constructed books, it can feel wonderfully tempting to adapt them for modern times and audiences. Sometimes this works brilliantly, like the movie Clueless, an adaptation of Austen’s Emma. But I had started to suspect that maybe it couldn’t be done with Pride & Prejudice, arguably Austen’s most popular and beloved novel. Even the best attempts, like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (Jane is a yoga teacher! Bingley is a former Batchelor-style reality show star! Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with CrossFit and Instagram! The Bennets are over mortgaged and likely to lose their house!) fall apart at the end because there just isn’t a modern analogue for what Darcy does to save Elizabeth and her sisters from ruin. It just seemed impossible to match the stakes of the original book, where a small action might mean certain ruin for an entire family.
But Sonali Dev seems to have cleverly cracked the code with Pride & Prejudice & Other Flavors. First of all she solves the problem of stakes by putting the whole thing in the context of a political campaign. If there is any world as puritanical as 18th century British society, where a hint of a rumor could lead to ruin, it’s politics.
But secondly, and more cleverly, rather than hewing exactly to the structure of Pride & Prejudice, she kind of takes both the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy and puts them in a blender and distributes attributes of both between Trisha and DJ. Trisha has a massive family (Elizabeth). DJ (whose first name is Darcy) has only one sister (Darcy). But Trisha is from a wealthy, powerful family (Darcy) while DJ is the son of a refugee (okay, the Bennets weren’t wealthy but they were hardly refugees). Both Trisha and DJ have a sibling in some kind of jeopardy, both adore their siblings (an underappreciated theme of Pride & Prejudice). Ultimately, the scrambling of the two characters makes the whole thing feel fresh and exciting in a way that stories based on 18th century novels don’t often. And that’s before we get to the loving way the book describes Indian cooking and food in general, as well as art, music and science.
So, seriously, you Austen fans should absolutely pick this one out. It was fun, wonderfully written. And I came away with a greater appreciation for the original source material (and that’s really saying something).
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