Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I can't think of any other book people have asked me about at the library this summer more than Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The idea is captivating---in a perverse stare-at-the-car-wreck-as-you-drive-by kind of way. I'm sure I'm being asked because I've become known as the horror guy at work, but this book has received a shocking level of press, both good and bad. And I have to say, it's not as bad as you might think, but it's also not as good as you might think.


The idea itself is pretty simple---use the story of Austen's classic novel as a foundation for a zombie horror tale. The familiar characters are all there: the annoying Bennets, strong-willed Elizabeth and even darkly mysterious Mr. Darcy. But zombies---and later ninjas----abound, crashing through windows, breaking down doors and eating plenty of brains. The characters have been played with a bit to accommodate this terrible world. Elizabeth isn't just a strong women---she, and all the women, are highly-trained zombie killers fast with the daggers. It works out to something oddly funny and cartoony, especially at moments when Zombies burst onto the scene right after a very Victorian conversation of manners and romance. It comes together as something you shake your head and laugh at. Not because you think it's riotously funny, but because you can't believe someone put this all together into a novel.


The idea of merging two very different forms is nothing new. Jonathan Lethem did it early in his career when he merged Raymond Chandler with Philip K Dick in Gun With Occasional Music. Kathy Acker did it with books like her Great Expectations by merging the Dicken's classic with pornography, poetry and horror. And of course William S. Burroughs based his whole career on it, by merging anything and everything he ever read----sci fi, westerns, high literature, gay porn---into everything he wrote. While I love all of these books, there's something missing for me with Grahame-Smith.

Part of it is a lack of writing mechanics. Grahame-Smith didn't just lift characters and scenery for his book, he lifted whole phrases, lines and even paragraphs from Austen's novel. Some of the reviews I've read refer to this style as a "literary-mashup", I guess giving a nod to those dj's who will spin two or more music tracks together so they'll line up and play off of each other. When it works it's a lot of fun, but when it doesn't work the missed beats and odd blends of melody make you cringe. This is much the same way. Grahame-Smith is pretty good with the dialogue, not surprising since it's already been put into development as a movie----but his descriptions lack the poetic flair Austen wrote with.

I also wanted more from the horror----more blood, more scares, more blood, more ham-fisted political commentary, more blood, more something to make this something stronger than just a satiric romp and yes, even more blood. That said, it's still a fun and fast read and if you go in with an open mind and fair-to-middlin' expectations you'll have fun with it.

If you end up liking it, I have good news. With Vampire Darcy's Desire, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, there are A LOT of imitators coming up over the next year. If you don't like it, I have good news for you, too. This is sure to be a passing fad that will fade away in a couple of years----or even less. Just close your eyes as you walk by the displays in the bookstores and you'll be fine.


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