I was so excited to get this book, I made sure that my name was down for an order at the bookstore. When I went over yesterday I was so happy to find that I had a copy, because they had run out of copies for anyone who hadn’t ordered. I read the first paragraph and laughed and laughed—it was a promising beginning.
And then I got bored.
Let me say, first, that I have seen Pride and Prejudice on film in its many forms. I quite love the story, and I’ve seen the BBC miniseries—the last time possibly within the last year—the Bollywood version, and I own the Keira Knightley DVD and I watch that for feel-good fuzzies quite a bit. Like a lot of people, I know what’s going to happen. And therein lies the problem. I have seen so much of it, so many times, that while this is supposed to be a more original, fresh retelling, the essential elements are still the same. So knowing what was going to happen, even the lines that they were going to say, at some point, just bored the bejeezus out of me. (I suspect that this is exactly the same reason why I never got through the actual book. Yes, allow me to insert this disclaimer, I have never actually read Pride and Prejudice the authentic Jane Austen novel in its purest form.)
In this version of Pride and Prejudice, zombies—or “unmentionables” as they are referred to—have been around in England, and possibly other parts of the world, for about 500 years. No one is certain as to how the dreaded pestilence came about, but over the course of time people have become aware of how to combat them and avoid encounters. It is not unheard of for women, as well as men, to be learned in the “deadly arts” or at the very least to be versed in firing a musket or using a weapon to defend themselves. This ideal of a woman who
“must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages, she must also be trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the modern tactics and weaponry of Europe”
is well integrated into the book, so that it falls seamlessly with the original text. Seth Grahame-Smith makes it seem believable that this idea of a sort of Buffy who sews is really quite acceptable in Regency England.
Are we still in Regency England?
The only issue that I had with this sewing Buffy was the whole Kyoto masters/Shaolin training thing. Seriously? How is this integration of martial arts supposed to suddenly be part of British upper class training, as with the inclusion of ninjas (and were they British ninjas or imported from Japan?). Add to the fact that the original Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, in the height of the Regency period, and Japan did not open itself to the western world until 1854, how did a whole bunch of upper class Brits make their way over there and learn how to become smooth as ninjas? (Or are we taking liberties with the history because of the zombies?) And am I the only one who finds this whole Shaolin thing very Buffy? The muskets and the swords make sense, but in Britain, with their James Bond sensibility, the whole kick-arse martial arts thing seems to be not quite culturally in sync, and martial arts would make more sense as a more modern concept of self-defence in America.
Reading the book, I also had some concerns about the language, more specifically the tone and the reading of it. While reading a part that Grahame-Smith had written I thought to myself, Are you North American? This sounds American. I checked the author blurb and he was, and you could tell that from reading the book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this being a British book, I had some expectation that it would feel, well, more British, and while the language fit well with the time, the tone, and occasionally the feel of the characters were somewhat modern and even a little bit American. As I told Kat last night while I was chatting and taking a break from the book, it maintains the authenticity of Jane Austen, but I think that they say things that real British people from that period wouldn’t say because its too modern even if it’s said in a pseudo-Regency way.
Zombies in Austen’s world
Lest this sound like complete disapproval of the book, I must say that while it was boring—largely through no fault of its own, but more because of my own saturation with the Pride and Prejudice series that only came to light when I started reading—when it was funny, it was really funny. Grahame-Smith has a sense of humour, and it is an entertaining one. The sensibilities of living life in a zombie-infested world are generally well integrated into Austen’s Regency world, complete with characteristic wit:
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Besides, the path is now most assuredly rife with zombies, and I have not the inclination to engage in fighting them off to-day. Good-bye”
The characters themselves seemed to be larger than life, fighting versions of themselves: Elizabeth Bennet channelled her inner Buffy, and Mr Darcy was some kind of a smooth talking 007 except he was kind of ninja-like. While I found that this fit with the aloofness of Mr Darcy’s character, I found Elizabeth a bit too over the top, and unlike my original perceptions from the other versions of Pride and Prejudice that I have witnessed, less devoted to her sisters and more devoted to the killing of zombies, which I guess fits with the theme of the novel.
The secondary characters fit well with the story and were in line with the original Regency concept, but with their own zombie-like twists. Lydia still never stops talking about frivolous things—interspersed with zombie talk—Mrs Bennet is still trying to get all her daughters married, Mr Bennet, in addition to his fondness for his daughters, also provides them with zombie kill training, Wickham is still Wickham and Mr Bingley is still Mr Bingley.
Zombies appear to be the in thing now, and while I find them entertaining, in this guise I couldn’t help but feel that it was angling to be made into a movie. So much so that I thought, Dammit why did Keira Knightley have to do the other version already? She would’ve been good in this one, kicking butt, seeing as she did Pirates and Domino already.
Yay or Nay?
If you love Pride and Prejudice and are happy to read through the text again, by all means go for it. If you are squeamish about blood and gore and snot and slime, this may not be the book for you. When I got over knowing what was going to happen next, I found it quite witty, and the zombie bits served well to highlight the story. In the end, just for the novelty of it all, I would say give it a chance.
While I have mixed feelings about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, ranging from “Ooooh, you have potential” to “I want to hurl you across the room” to “Hey, now this is actually funny”, you may find it entertaining. It has everyone talking, and it even got the boys at the local sf/f bookstore excited, and technically this is a chick book with boy bits. Give it a go. Zombies can be funny.
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