Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Synopsis: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.

My Thoughts:  I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this novel, nor how exactly the zombie storyline would be woven into the original tale. For the most part the splicing of the old with the new worked fairly well although there were the occasional zombie reference or alteration of the original text that I found to be a little messy and awkward, but I guess that would be expected from a feat such as this. It did seem to remain fairly true to the original, however I haven't read the original (past chapter 2), I've only seen the BBC adaptation (which I believe to be quite close) and I certainly recognised not only scenes but entire chunks of dialogue from the series in the book.

Before I began reading I had wondered about the author's intention with the zombie plot, whether it'd seem contrived or gimmicky, the result of a guy merely trying to cash in on the zombie trend and make the most out of the freedom of public domain texts. Surprisingly though I thought it worked quite well in reinforcing Austen's original character traits and themes (again this is an assumption made from the BBC series and the general talk I've head). I thought this was so especially regarding Elizabeth, she now has a superior external strength, talent and ruthlessness to her character which I think better exemplifies her qualities of uniqueness, strength and courage that Austen had originally depicted her with.

It was missing some of the subtlety of the original which is to be expected when you chuck zombies into the mix, but overall I thought it quite a charming book. My favourite parts were definitely when the zombie inserts were juxtaposed with some of the more heavily focused aspects of the novel such as propriety and manners which I thought was brilliantly done in the scene at the first ball. An attack from a horde of zombies force the girls into the "pentagram of death" "stepping outward in unison- each thrusting a razor-sharp dagger with one hand, the other hand modestly tucked into the small of their back," (page 14).

Often having seen the movie, or in this case series, before reading the book ruins my ability to visualise the characters how I'd like to, however either it's been long enough since I've seen the series for it not to overshadow, or the slight alterations Seth Grahame-Smith made to the characters were great enough to change them from their depiction in the series. I had no problem letting the book spark my imagination in terms of character appearance and accent etc except in the case of Mr Darcy. Perhaps because of the universal acknowledgement that Colin Firth is Mr Darcy, I couldn't visualise anyone else and it was only his voice I ever heard saying Mr Darcy's lines. This wasn't a problem though, it actually added to the comedy quite substantially to imagine Colin Firth running around in a suit and top hat decapitating zombies with a katana.

I did enjoy this book, but at times I did really have to force myself to keep reading, setting myself page goals I had to reach before I put it down. I think this was close enough for me to grasp the intentions of Austen without having to fall asleep one more trying to read it. I've heard complaints from Austen fans that they found this gimmicky and didn't feel like they needed to read the whole thing and I'd say they'd probably be right. If you know the story and read it often the addition of the zombies might seem quaint and comical at the start but it doesn't alter the plot enough for it to really engage someone who knows the book well, or at least that's how I (the Austen novice) feel.

That said the book is well written and for the most part I though Seth Grahame-Smith did an amazing job seamlessly combining his words with Austen, although once more I have to remind you I haven't read the original so an Austen fan, like a Trekkie critiquing the latest Star Trek film, might be completely insulted by the additions made in this edition. The zombies gave it that push of action I really needed so that I could get through it because this is a book from an era I tend to steer clear of, in a writing style I tend to dislike on a subject I can't stand, so the fact I got through it (even with the help of zombies) is quite remarkable indeed.

 3.5 out of 5 etiquette trained zombie hunters.