Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Quirk Books; Philadelphia, PA (2009)
The things I do for Austensorium.
I was not going to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I just love P&P too much, and I have a real distaste for horror. Mixing the two would be a devil's brew, and I did not want that memory super-imposed the next time I settle down to enjoy the stormy courtship of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. But then I thought of Austensorium and its mission -- to examine and illuminate the continuing legacy of Miss Austen by keeping one finger firmly pressed to the pulse of popular and literary culture -- and I knew that I had to read and review it for the sake of this blog.
So, it is finished. And I cannot truly say that I regret the read. I mean, there is, as advertised, much in the way of "ultraviolent zombie mayhem," but much of it is simply funny, rather than disgusting. And, in all, it is clever the way Mr. Grahame-Smith works in the zombie (referred to, politely, by the assaulted population as 'unmentionables') attacks -- Satan's spawn trudging inexorably on the roads to and from Meryton; brain-seeking monsters crashing the neighborhood balls; the undead waylaying inter-county carriage rides -- with the otherwise calm and ordered existence of English gentry. I think that, had this been the extent of the additions, Mr. Grahame-Smith would have had an unqualified triumph. Unfortunately, he went about the business of altering Elizabeth's character so thoroughly, that our favorite Brit Lit heroine comes across as schizophrenic at best, and almost reprehensible at worst.
My father, who is reading this book in small doses to prolong his enjoyment, argued with me when I pointed out that Elizabeth had been completely changed; and, since her character -- with its playfulness, liveliness, and light-heartedness -- is the very essence of the book, I could not entirely enjoy the novel. "But," my father pointed out, "England has been under threat from these 'unmentionables' for the past 50 years . . . don't you think that that very fact could have legitimately changed Elizabeth from her playful nature into the hardened killer that she has had to become?"
Maybe, but, to paraphrase Mr. Bingley, a Pride and Prejudice without the central Elizabethness at its heart might be an interesting book, but it is not so much like Pride and Prejudice. She is the book -- and, while I think she could have worked as a zombie slayer by accident and necessity, she does not really work as a ruthless, heart-eating, revengeful sort of person. What is even more strange, is that Mr. Grahame-Smith left in enough of Jane Austen's portrayal of Elizabeth to split entirely her personality. So, we still have Austen's Elizabeth blushing and demure and witty and sassy sprinkled throughout, with Grahame-Smith's warrior Elizabeth soaked in both thought and action with bloodlust bookending the former. Like I said, rather schizophrenic.
And, of course, since Mr. Grahame-Smith (who unfortunately, despite having such an Englishly hyphenated last name, does not appear to be British) is a youngish male with, presumably, what are trademarked youngish male inclinations, there are some rather vulgar sexual references thrown into Darcy's and Elizabeth's banter. This is, of course, superfluous, as Miss Austen wrote the sexiest novel that you could read aloud to your maiden aunt. With its fiery undercurrent of sexual tension, it is far more hot and heavy than the sophomoric puns and euphemisms employed by Mr. Grahame-Smith. Of course, I guess men see that sort of thing differently from women.
Perhaps the best part of the book is the "Reader's Discussion Guide" at the end. This priceless scream is a send-up of those ubiquitous book-club-pandering addenda that try to elevate every weeper novel into literature by attaching deep, reflective questions to the text. Hardy-har-har! My other favorite part is the internal musings of Charlotte regarding the potential match of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth during the latter's stay at Hunsford. To write much more would be an unfair spoiler.
All in all, I would say that for any true, diehard Austen fan, this is a must-read -- if only to have it on your bookshelf with its over-the-top cover. Is it silly, strange and mildly offensive? Sure. But, it is also a very intriguing idea, and, if you are anything like me (and I suspect you are), your curiosity will get the better of you in the end. So, give in at the beginning, and come back here to discuss.
One last critical note: My father claims that the zombie scenes are so seamlessly written into the original that he cannot tell where Miss Austen's writing leaves off and Mr. Grahame-Smith's begins. That only proves to me that he has not read nearly as much Jane Austen as he should have. Shame on him. I could always tell -- sometimes it was jarring, at others merely amusing. If you read the book, please let me know whether it is as obvious to you.
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