Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
written by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen
review by Magda Knight
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains". Thus begins Quirk Classic 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'. The clue is rather in the name, for this is a retelling of Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'. With zombies.
The year is - well, the book is set at some point in the Faux Regency era. Mrs. Bennet aims to see all five of her daughters married, yet there remains the small matter of zombies prowling the land. Although zombies are primarily referred to as 'unmentionables'. A far more delicate term, and one more suited to the ears of women and children. Fortunately, an equal number of zombies feast on Regency flesh in the country as they do in the towns, so one cannot claim the countryside to be socially backward in this regard.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is real. It's a joke, but it's a joke you can hold in your hands and read from cover to cover. Seth Grahame-Smith's aim is to take Austen's marvellous Regency Romance and marry it with the rather brilliant notion that zombies have all but taken over Regency England. Hurrah!
This splendid world envisages an age where, alongside lessons in dancing and etiquette - essential for attendance at the profusion of local rural balls - girls of good standing are also expected to be well-acquainted in the deathly arts of musketry, swordsmanship and the general despatching of zombies. And the despatching of zombies is usually a social skill that will lead to marriage - unless, as in dear Miss Elizabeth Bennet's case, the matter is taken to extremes.
All of the principal characters are here so that the plot stays true to Austen's original, and the witty banter between sharp-tongued (and knived) Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is still a source of delight. Mr. Darcy is as foul-natured as ever, else what would be the point of the whole endeavour?
Fortunately, this novel is not a one trick pony. No, no - it is a two trick pony! The first trick, of course, is that zombies are always good, and zombies swarming through Regency England and mucking up everyone's romantic agendas are even better. Let's face it, any mention of zombies in a Jane Austen novel is guaranteed to have a tee-hee factor. Unlikely as it seems, traditional young ladies despatching zombies to impress Mr Darcy remains funny throughout the whole book. Tee-hee!
The second trick is that this is a genuine social satire in its own right, aided mostly by the orginal social wit of Jane Austen. It pokes fun at the morals of the day, and casts a sly slant at our own modern senses and sensibitilies. Mrs Bennett is a nervous, fanciful creature whose only aim in life is to see her daughters wed. Mr Bennett is a focused father whose only aim is to see his daughters survive.
Could anything be finer?
Yes. But only if this novel included reading group discussion notes at the end. Which it does. Huzzah! 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' is not likely to replace Jane Austen's original in the schoolroom anytime soon, which is a good thing. Reading discussion notes are on the lines of:
1) Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth's personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine's ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family's estate. In your opinion, which of these 'halves' best represents the real Elizabeth at the beginning - and end - of the novel?
2) Is Mr. Collins merely too stupid to notice his wife's gradual transformation into a zombie, or could there be another explanation for his failure to acknowledge the problem? How might his occupation (as pastor) relate to his denial of the obvious, or his decision to hang himself?
3) The strange plague has been the scourge of England for "five-and-fifty years". Why do the English stay and fight, rather than retreat to the safety of eastern Europe or Africa?
4) Who receives the sorrier fate: Wickham, left paralyzed in a seminary for the lame, forever soiling himself and studying ankle-high books of scripture? Or Lydia, removed from her family, married to an invalid, and childless, yet forever changing filthy diapers?
5) Does Mrs. Bennett have a single redeeming quality?
6) Vomit plays an important role in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Mrs. Bennett frequently vomits when she's nervous, coachmen vomit in disgust when they witness zombies feasting on corpses, even the steady Elizabeth can't help but vomit at the sight of Charlotte lapping up her own bloody pus. Do the authors mean for this regurgitation to symbolize something greater, or is it a cheap device to get laughs?
Now, there's no point in lying. Even if it does hurt the feelings of the poor zombies. One thing to note is that although Seth Grahame-Smith tries very hard, he is simply not as socially astute or as witty as Jane Austen. This is a fine addendum to the original - but, even with added undead, it is not as good as the original. Secondly, this book somehow believes it is possible to do high kicks in a long heavy skirt. It is not. Thirdly, if one has already injected zombies into a work of literature, does one really need to add ninjas as well?
Yes, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' doesn't take itself too seriously - and yet manages to take itself very seriously indeed.
Hurrah for Mr Darcy! Hurrah for unmarried daughters with katana swords and muskets!
Final note: Oh... It probably needs to be pointed out that this novel also contains ninjas.
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@MagdaKnight is an author and the Co-Founder / Editor of Mookychick. Her YA and cross-genre fiction has been published in anthologies and in 2000AD. She likes you already, you know. It must be the jaunty angle of your hat. You can email her and visit her blog.