Wednesday 7 April 2010

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

I've written about literary remixes, or mash ups, before (here) but I've only just managed to finish Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, credited to Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I tried to start it as long ago as last August, convinced that I would love it. Truth is, I didn't. I kept putting it aside in favour of other, more enjoyable, books. Well I've eventually slogged through it, and I cannot say that my final impression is altogether that favourable.

I love Pride & Prejudice. It's one of my favourite books, and the only thing that even approaches its genius is the BBC's serialised adaptation in 1995, starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. I also have a penchant for zombies, so you'd think that anything that could combine the two would be amazing.

Ah, if only it were the case! At the beginning of the book, the somewhat liberal application of zombies feels jarring and implausible, not to mention lazy. In many cases, he simply changes one word in a sentence in order to allude to the 'plague'. He also tinkers with characters in order to make their "mastery of the Deadly Arts" fit within his plot, but this renders their actions as regards the Pride & Prejudice to become incoherent. For example, pious bookworm Mary is transformed into a highly focussed, zombie slaying Warrior, yet this doesn't work when Mr Bennett continues to refer to his younger daughters as "three f the silliest girls in the country". There is nothing remotely silly about Mary after Grahame-Smith's treatment - so why not change ALL of the text accordingly?

Another problem is the use of terminology. The girls are originally described as following the code of the Samurai, and they wield Katanas, but by the time Elizabeth has gone to Rosings, we discover she studied in China, and not Japan. It's this lack of consistency that jolts the realm of believability, and distracts from the plot.

By the middle of the book, Grahame-Smith hits his stride, and his substitution of Elizabeth's piano display at Rosings for a sparring match between Elizabeth and three of Lady Catherine's ninjas is perfectly normal. Likewise for Elizabeth's meeting with Darcy at Pemberley - no more is he encountered having just gone for a swim in his pond. No, now he appears on horseback to defend an unarmed Elizabeth against a horde of zombies (somewhat bizarrely referred to here as a 'herd').

Sadly, as the end of the book draws near, it feels like Grahame-Smith has forgotten what he set out to do, and several pages go by with only one or two vague mentions of the zombies. All that does is make me remember how much I enjoyed the original. If anything, he's written a spectacular advert for Pride & Prejudice, while failing to distinguish himself at every turn. If anything, his own book feels more like the outcome of one of those "Wouldn't it be funny if...?" questions, which seldom turn out to be as funny as the author would like.

If you want Austen and zombies, I'd recommend that you read Pride & Prejudice, and then go watch Zombieland. You'll have far more fun.


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