Patrick Sprunger's Reviews > Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
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's review
Dec 06, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, read-in-2010
Recommended to Patrick by: popular culture, errant though it may be
Recommended for: shut-ins, people who consider "graphic novels" literature, Quintin Tarantino fans
Read from December 06 to 11, 2010

I suppose readers are first divided by whether they think the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is even a good idea, in theory. Personally, I'm down. Let's face it: The 19th century English novel is terrible. At best, it is an acquired taste reserved for eccentrics and shut-in spinsters. The only thing more insipid is the 19th century American novel. Therefore, the defiling of Pride and Prejudice, even with something as cliché and du jour as zombies, is potentially satisfying. My problem lies with the author and the way the whole affair was handled.

From the back cover (of the Quirk Classics paperback edition): Jane Austin is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English literature. Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English literature.

Yes. So did I. However, unlike Grahame-Smith I presumed this modest achievement doesn't qualify me to go tampering with the canon - even those emasculated realms of the canon (Jane Austen, the Brontës) hated by anyone born after 1965.

The thing that makes the 19th century novel so dismal is not the intrigue, cattiness, even the melodrama. It is the prose, the dialogue, and the mores they all represent. But therein lies the greatest potential for ridicule. The language itself is so rich and dense that it begs to be appropriated, deconstructed, and reconstructed for the sake of parody. A snarky antiquarian with a vendetta against his/her English lit professors could find very fertile ground. Seth Grahame-Smith - writer of comic books, I believe - lacks the erudition and knowledge of the Georgian era to really exploit his subject. The author over-embraces dick jokes (though, to his credit, does utilize vomit to a surprisingly effective degree) - which fails to elevate PPZ over that of a movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch - A Night at the Roxbury, if you will. I find this extremely disappointing.

Of course, anyone with hope that PPZ would fulfill a shred of its potential probably thought about how (s)he would write the book his/herself. I am no different. I assumed Grahame-Smith would accept Austen's novel as a "universe" with sacrosanct rules and then act like a dungeon master, throwing challenges toward the characters - but requiring they meet them within the confines of the "universe's" local physics. A hypothetical model is one in which the Bennett sisters meet their respective suitors and relations, then engage in hijinks - to be determined by chance and the dungeon master's genius. In this model, the end (including the mortality rate of the cast) could be open ended. Provided Elizabeth and Darcy married, the stuff in between could have been much more dynamic.

Instead, Grahame-Smith preserved Austen's plot arc dutifully. When characters spar, it is because Austen established the tension in her manuscript. True, the part about zombies it total invention, but characters encounter them only when Austin had previously issued characters leave to go out of doors, into the country, or to a ball. Grahame-Smith's tincturing Georgian England with some of the character of Edo Japan should have had implications beyond the shallow non sequitur of locating dojos, Shinto shrines, and ninja attendants in the manoral tableau. Even the tension of rival schools of martial arts serves no purpose beyond easing the transition to motion picture or graphic novel. Indeed, it seems one or both of the latter - and, of course, money and the adulation of the masses - was the author's real motivating factor in adapting Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I get no impression of devotion to Austen, the 19th century English novel, or even the novel itself.

I suppose I should not be surprised by the disappointment. But it is disappointing, nevertheless.


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Reading Progress

12/08/2010 page 142
45.0% "Pretty bad book... Trying hard to find something to like, but it isn't easy. Confirms my lifelong suspicion of anything so popular."
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