Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Books with Friends – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (sort of) – reviewed by Chris King

Today, another guest review, by Chris King:

Zombies stand in for many situations and make unusual and extreme situations more understandable. They are consumerism, they are conscription and militarisation, a metaphor for the elderly and inevitable death. Zombies can make living in the horrors of a warzone more relatable. Zombies even work wonderfully in the Regency period, as they can stand in for dehumanised people. Imagine the French revolution with the king fleeing his residence when a force of zombies shamble up to the gates and Marie Antoinette declaring: ‘if they cannot eat bread, let them eat meat’– that would work well. What does not work is making violence acceptable because the human victims have been swapped for zombies or just shoehorning zombies in because they are considered cool. Ironically, adding zombies to something makes it a prime target for consumerism. So now Jane Austen has zombies in it, and this will become a movie. Also ninjas.

The entire purpose of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is to make Austen’s classic relatable to people who don’t think they will like it. It is for A-level students that think a 200-year-old book must be stupid, for people who think they should read the classic but assume it will be boring, or worse it is for those men who don’t like “women’s literature” (whatever that is, apparently Pride and Prejudice is part of it). So zombies get added to make it interesting. It is the same principle as 50 Sheds of Grey; it is not designed for lovers of Fifty Shades of Grey but instead for people who don’t like it but want to get involved in the discussion of it.

Now, I should talk about the plot, characters and style like I do for most reviews rather than just being hung up on the premise, but then again, for this book, the premise is the book.

England has come under attack from zombies: the Undead, the Dreadfuls, the Unmentionables. This started some time ago in the village of ­­­­Meryton near the Bennett household, and Mr Bennett decided that his daughters should not be unprepared for the horrors of the outside world. So the Bennett sisters became the foremost fighting force against the undead. There is no greater depth or changes to the initial plot than that. You may think that changes a lot but the book is Austen’s – only, every now and then Seth Grahame-Smith changes some sections, first small, then larger parts to include the presence of zombies. Otherwise, the plot and most of the words continue just as Austen wrote them. Mr Bingly comes to town, there is a ball at Longbourne, Darcy and Elizabeth meet and initially dislike each other, the same plot as before – but the substance behind it is gone, and replaced with zombies.

Austen’s political weight and witty social commentary is removed, and what we are left with is what I think the uninterested expected: a girl meets a boy and after some small confusion they fall in love, the end. Only now, instead of a developed world of the Regency period and upper-class propriety, we have a bare-bones setting (there may or may not be a pun intended here) and zombies. The zombies are not developed either so fans of zombies and their various forms, appearances and origin stories are left behind too, which makes the presence of zombies seem like nothing more than a gimmick.

Fundamentally all of the characters remain the same with some more traits added in. The Bennett sisters are martial arts experts, Lady Catherine has a dojo and Darcy is praised for being the killer of more than a thousand Dreadfuls.

Sometimes this characterisation works the same in the setting: Mr Collins is just as clueless and strange as always. But Lydia Bennett, expert knife wielder and zombie killer, no longer seems the type to lose her head and elope with a militia officer.

But all characters follow Austen, even if their actions appears totally out of place in the new setting. So if you were hoping for zombie ultra-violence as Darcy and Elizabeth exchange quips about their musket firing ability, you will be disappointed. They speak Austen’s words and occasionally zombie killing takes the place of dancing or letter writing. So I am not sure it pleases Austen fans or Austen sceptics to a sufficient degree. Perhaps it will work better in a visual medium; after all, it was the trailer for the film that prompted this review.

The book has the same style and (mostly) tone of Austen. Austen’s words are swapped every now and then for those of Grahame-Smith, but the switch never seems right. Mostly Grahame-Smith comes in to remind us of the background presence of zombies, in which case the violence seems too unreal ‘Elizabeth sheathed her sword, knelt beside him, and strangled him to death with his own large bowel.’ For battle scenes, the shift in tone is too much for the style to remain fundamentally the same. I know it is meant to be a parody series and has abrupt changes in tone as part of its comedy, but it makes it difficult to read. The change in tone but attempt to keep the same style creates the situation wherein ‘nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room’ has the same impact as ‘Sir William poked his head out and informed Elizabeth that the coachman had died, and asked if she thought it appropriate to leave his body’.

I suppose that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could be a gateway to enter the world of Austen, but readers are not likely to be those who would then read the source material to see what had been changed. They might instead keep reading the Austen parodies like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (which I have heard is at least better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

But as a great Austen fan I found it somewhat patronising, like I couldn’t handle Pride and Prejudice, so to manage I had to have this dummed down version that added zombies whenever it thought I might be getting bored. I got the impression that this was a book for children or very young adults, because faster than you can say ‘she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me’ and it sounds like it might get mushy or kissy, then zombies attack. There are even pictures, but perhaps too graphic for really young children.

My basic summery, my too long, not enough dragons summary is: if you love Austen, stick to Austen, but if you have missed out on reading Pride and Prejudice and think you should know the plot from something other than the film with Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennett (though it is definitely worth playing a most wonderful game of drinking whenever Keira Knightly laughs or Lizzie Bennett is outside without her bonnet), then you might want to give Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a read. That, or you could just read the plot of Pride and Prejudice on Wikipedia. Actually, so long as you are not a teenage boy with strange ideas about what books you can and can’t admit to have read, then Wikipedia is the better option.

Strongest part: When Caroline Lucas is bitten and Mr Collins does not notice his wife’s inability to speak without dribbling or her accidently eating napkins.

Greatest weakness: The sudden appearance of zombies gets old really quickly and a setting where both graceful dancing and being able to rip an enemy heart out and eat it are the high marks of an elite lady is too jarring.

Let’s finish on a quote: ‘Elizabeth set her feet, and Lady Catherine, realising she would never convince such a stubborn, unusual girl, snapped her fingers. The first ninja drew his sword and let out a battle cry as he charged directly at Elizabeth.’

Chris King currently spends his lonely existence warning people of the horror of the undead and wondering when he will meet an elegant Georgian woman who is skilled in swordplay.  

If you havent been entirely put off, click here to buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies through my Foyles affiliate link.

With many thanks to Chris King for this review. I’ll be back next week with another review.

Click below for more  of Chriss reviews: 

                       

         

2 comments:

  1. I still need to read this one! I didn't care for Pride & Prejudice so maybe I'll like this better lol.

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  2. Maybe! I don't think I'll be trying it but I may attempt Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters - I hear good things :)

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