Friday, September 04, 2009

Ex Libris: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Swift's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

You get what you can see with zombies on the table.

As the new monster 'flavor', zombies (as well as their pseudo-relatives like 28 Days Later and L4D) are expected to attack-- whether fast or slow-- and chomp on you. And because zombies are what they are, it's doubtful that there's going to be re-imagining of this monster as has been done to the vampire and to some extent the werewolf.

I mean, who's going to fall in love with a zombie, decaying body parts and all? How can you do this tired old monster differently?

Which brings us to this quirky little zombie mashup book by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Swift called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This book daintily sidesteps the issue of reinvigoration by combining zombies with that classic romance story, Pride and Prejudice. And the damn thing works.

We've seen or read one form or another of the story: headstrong Elizabeth Bennett and her family, proud Fitzwilliam Darcy, the haughty Bingsleys, the devious George Wickham, and the rest. There is Jane Bennett's mistimed love story with Mr. Bingsley, the love-hate relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, Mrs. Bennett's clumsy attempts to get her daughters married, and the stuffy William Collins who can't get the hint.

But in Grahame-Smith's version of the story, Regency England is also suffering from the rise of the 'unmentionables' or zombies attacking anything living for their brains. Fortunately, the English are doing well enough against them and this is the first indication that the zombie-inclusion in the story is appropriate given the penchant for a 'stiff upper lip'.

Moreover, Austen's actual text and Grahame-Smith's zombie-text appears seamless, i.e. the narrative ran smoothly between the two whenever zombies were introduced or mentioned in the story. However, I have to admit that I haven't read the original text so I can't really say if this seamlessness was perfect. Aside from zombies, there are some distinct alterations in the story, i.e. the Bennett sisters are masters in the Buddhist martial arts and very capable of dispatching zombies. Likewise, ninjas are involved somewhere. (Who can resist ninjas and zombies? But I digress.)

In fact, at first the whole work seems like an odd-ball version of Austen's best romantic novel with zombies roaming the countryside and Elizabeth Bennet kicking anyone's ass if they so much as impugn her or her family's honor-- including famed monster-hunter himself, Lord Darcy. Nothing different there.

However, as the story progresses, Grahame-Smith's alterations seem to develop confidence against Austen's classic story and a few sub-stories are amusingly twisted. These include Charlotte's fate, the reason why Mr. Bingsley separated from Jane Bennett, Wickham's incapacitation as well as the continuing missing messengers throughout the narrative. And it is this smooth transition from Austen-with-a-gimmick to Pride-and-Prejudice-worth its name that makes this version a good read. (Rating: Four paws out of four.) - Available locally only at Fully Booked.

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