Thursday, May 06, 2010

Review - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!When I first read a blurb about this book a year or more ago, I thought it sounded hilarious and I wanted to pick it up. My wife is a big Pride and Prejudice fan and I kept thinking of getting it for her as a gift. And yet, for more than a year, I passed it by on store shelves. Finally, a couple of months ago, my sister-in-law loaned the book to us.

Be warned that some of what I type below will be considered a spoiler both for this Zombie version of the story as well as for the original Pride and Prejudice novel. Rather than avoid spoilers, I figure I may as well just go with the writing flow…after all, this story has become so mainstream that I won't be spoiling anything for those who really care (since they're already familiar with it) and those who don't care are unlikely to ever read the story, so it doesn't matter.

As I dove into the reading, the first thing I noticed that the language was very similar (in some cases identical) to the style and wording in the original novel by Jane Austen. The presentation and the descriptions of the zombies (the 'unmentionables') were all done in the formal tones of early 19th century British literature. The new author Seth Grahame-Smith, does a good job of capturing the character's voices and maintaining the 'free indirect speech' that Austen employed in the original.

From a high level, the plot points in this new rendition remained somewhat true to the initial flow published 200 years ago. Elizabeth still finds herself first outraged, then intrigued and later enamored by the stoic Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet is still more interested in getting her daughter's married off than in anything else (even the zombies ravaging the countryside). Wickham still turns out to be a prick. Collins is still repulsive. And I still find Mr. Bennet hilarious (and very relatable) in his resignation to the world around him and his sarcastic approach to the dealings of his family.

There were a number of fairly notable changes to the plot. Obviously the introduction of the zombies creates a huge departure. Beyond that, there were a few smaller changes that struck me as odd such as implied affairs between Elizabeth's aunt and some unknown "friend" and the slightly askew storyline of Collins and Charlotte.

The most outrageous departure, however, happened near the end of the book when Darcy confronts Wickham and 'persuades' him to 'do the right think' and marry Lydia. I need to go back and review the exact language of the original…but even without reading Austen's original wording, I am 100% certain that this new book took a significantly more dramatic view of what happened. I'll grant authorial license and the idea that perhaps Austen was "being conservative" when she represented what Darcy did to Wickham. But Grahame-Smith took it almost to the other extreme. The only way he could have gone farther would have been to have Darcy actually kill Wickham (which would have disrupted the plot similarities). Instead, he leaves Wickham a cripple for life with no control over himself or his bodily functions. The remaining scenes with Wickham were rather disturbing for me and were too large a departure for me to willingly accept it.

In terms of what the novel did, it succeeded. This book provides a humorous/ironic mash-up of a classic story of society and romance with the story of unlikely heroes doing their best to slay the vile monsters that are overtaking the land.

Unfortunately, the form of the novel did not allow it to succeed otherwise for me.

There were TWO instances in the novel when I actually laughed out loud. The first, because it was just so unexpected and caught me off guard. The second because it was just ridiculous. So as to the "humorous" aspect of the mash-up, I was left seriously unfulfilled.

The writing itself was good in the sense that it stayed mostly true to the narrative style and language of Austen. There were a handful of points where the writing felt too 'modern' or even had blatant typos or misused words. My general complaint with the writing though was that of taking the story/mashup to the next level. I was already very familiar with the P&P story. I've also read and scene a number of zombie stories.

As I read the mashup, it felt less like a comfortable 'joining' of the two genres and more of a 'rewrite Jane Austen and tack some monsters on the side.' Most of the scenes with the zombies were spread fairly thin throughout the book. Minimal references would be given throughout key scenes critical to "remain true" to the original. I felt that the 'new' author could have done much better by supplying much more 'adventure' or 'action' to the story. Of the very few scenes involving any battles, they were moderately well written and sometimes engaging. But they were spread too far apart and often too short to provide any real memorable addition to the story.

I came away feeling that the same thing could have actually been achieved in Austen's time if she had written in that a pack of voracious wolves were hunting the countryside and the characters had to be ready to take them down. The result would have been nearly the same (minus the curse from the brain-eaters)…that the characters would have occasionally had scenes where they pulled out a rifle or a sword and cut down some beast before continuing on their merry way to romp along the city streets.

Normally, I could have read this book in a single week…instead, it took me nearly a month and I had to literally FORCE myself to finish it. I was bored with it and ready to move on well before I was halfway finished. I pushed through to the end, mainly with the hopes of something noteworthy or spectacular in the modified conclusion that would leave me feeling like my reading experience was actually worthwhile.

Unfortunately, now that I've finished, I cannot say that it was a worthwhile read. If someone is interested in this book, I would suggest they skim through it, glancing at the artwork and reading a few excerpts. Sadly, that brief skim is more than enough to gain what's notable from this novel.

1.5 stars out of 5

View all my reviews


Brian Miller said...

oh nice review...have heard just the opposite but...hmm...yours sounds honest...

Talli Roland said...

Great review.

I have this book, but I just haven't been able to work myself up to read it. I've enjoyed the artwork and skimming the text, but somehow I can't see myself reading the whole thing.

logankstewart said...

I was very excited when this book came out. I went to the bookstore and sat down and read the first 20 or 30 pages and was rather disappointed and bored. I passed up the $15 new book and said I'd get to it when it was cheaper. I found this book at BAM! a few weeks ago for $3, and I had a gift card, so I went ahead and bought it. Now I have to get to it one day, but I'm at least one step closer, though I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy it.

I really like P&P, so I'm not sure what to expect. Great review. It seems to echo most of the reviews I've read.

Tales of Whimsy said...

I don't think I'll dig this either :)

Okie said...

As an added note, I am fairly familiar with Jane Austen and her stories. I think that is some of what turned me off is that this wasn't unique enough (in spite of expectations) to warrant an entire novel. As I mentioned, I think the author did well in maintaining the Austen style, and should be complimented there.

In thinking more about that, I got to wondering about the readers who HAVE NOT read any Austen and likely never had any desire to do so. The premise of this novel may be enough to get them to pick it up and try it out. Since this is so close to the original (I went and compared passages and there are a lot of sections copied nearly verbatim), it's possible that this could attract new readers to Austen.

However, as I explored the possibility, I think that's likely too much to hope for. Because the style and premise is still so close to being Austenian (is that a word), then I suspect that those readers who avoided Austen before would come away from this book partially entertained, but not generally enthused about reading more of her books.