Vulcan’s Peak

Book log: Pride and Prejudice… and Zombies

June 20, 2009 12:34 pm

pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies

Pride and Prejudice
and Zombies

by Jane Austen
and Seth Grahame-Smith

Even the cover design reflects Grahame-Smith’s general method. The copyright page attributes the portrait of a young lady to the Bridgeman Art Library, but also credits the book designer for “cover zombification.”

Clearly, the cut-throat marriage market of Regency England needed more literal throat cutting.

As the book’s first line now reads, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”  And so it goes.  Seth Grahame-Smith (author of several odd-looking books — seriously, check Amazon) has opened Jane Austen’s text and brought in an army of the undead.  Ever wondered why Netherfield was vacant in the first place and ready for Mr. Bingley to move in?  Zombies.  Obviously.

In order to add his zombies, Grahame-Smith has created an alternate England that, by 1815 or thereabouts, has been fighting the undead for some fifty years.  In this England, London is again a walled city, hopeless optimists try to concoct cures for this strange plague, and travelers are often set upon by “unmentionables” (as the more genteel characters tend to say, as though they were Victorians talking about underwear).  A church window that the characters run across depicts “a resurrected Christ returning to slay the last of the unmentionables, Excalibur in hand.”  And prudent parents arrange for their children to be trained in the “deadly arts” — and by masters in China or Japan if at all possible.  (And yes, I am nerd enough to wonder what European imperialism and the Napoleonic Wars look like with this scenario, but that’s too deep a question for this book.)

In a number of places, zombie-related changes turn into very clever explanations.  Why can’t the girls use the carriage at this time?  Damaged by musket-fire in a zombie attack.  Why can’t they just walk there?  Rain has softened the ground, making it easier for zombies to crawl out of their graves.  Why is a regiment of troops quartered in town?  To fight back the zombies.  And so on.

In this version of events, the five Bennet girls are all highly skilled fighters, having trained by a Chinese kung fu master.  Although the characters of Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia remain largely unchanged, Elizabeth is much more rough around the edges.  She’s still independent and spirited, but she’s also a bit brutal.  (Not to worry:  so is Darcy.)

Usually, I enjoy Austen for her subtlety and elegance, but even though lots of the text is verbatim Jane Austen, those are not the qualities to look for in this book.  Although there are still fancy balls and lovely estates, the zombies bring with them all the violence and various bodily fluids that you would expect.  And the text itself has been generally pared down.  I don’t know whether the intention was to keep the length roughly the same or to simplify the prose (to attract readers? to create a sparser tone more fitting for a zombie tale?), but at times it does give the effect of being an Easy Reader version of the story.

On occasion, the characters themselves are less subtle and elegant than their purely Austenian counterparts.  Subtle digs become direct insults, and arguments are likely to involve physical fighting.  Where Austen leaves you to draw your own conclusions, Grahame-Smith hits you over the head — rather as Elizabeth does to Darcy when he first proposes to her.

About a third of the way through the book, the zombies begin to infiltrate the plot more deeply as they claim a character for their own.  I won’t say too much, but it’s really a very clever choice on the part of Grahame-Smith, and it dovetails neatly with what happens to that character in the original.

I do have my nits to pick with Grahame-Smith’s work, but the book also kept me giggling.  One of my favorite passages primarily substituted the word “ninjas” for the word “governess,” and the result is hilarious.  Details like that one kept me reaching for the original to see what exactly the change was — happily that’s easy to do, as the chapter numbering has not been altered.

Judging from her novels, I think Jane Austen had a healthy sense of humor, and I tend to believe that she would be amused by this twist on her novel — though perhaps she would have been shocked at all the mentions of pus and vomit (no, I didn’t just mean blood when I said “bodily fluids”).  But I have to say that I found Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to be the most delightful zombie-slaying comedy of manners I’ve ever read.

2 Responses to “Book log: Pride and Prejudice… and Zombies”

Pug wrote a comment on June 20, 2009

Some credit must go to Elf for bringing you this book, as she had the idea before me, she was just too slow to vocalize it. :)

Odette wrote a comment on June 20, 2009

Oh yes! I meant to say thank you, Elf, for knowing I needed to read this book. :D Pug told me that you guys talked about it and that you were thinking of lending me your copy.

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