Sunday, 17 June 2012

Book Review: Austen’s Apocalypse

by Gregory Walton-Green

(source: thefilmstage.com)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I am going to start this with a confession. I read this book before reading the original Pride and Prejudice, or even watching a whole movie or TV series of it. Thankfully, I have now clambered over that hurdle, and I think can provide a balanced opinion of this book’s strengths and pitfalls compared to the original masterpiece.

I urge you not to shy away from this book, either from disgust at the supposed defiling of this ‘masterpiece of English literature’ or from thinking that Austen is ‘too boring’ for you, even with the added intrigue of ‘the strange plague’. Although the ‘violent zombie mayhem’ and 'increased vomiting' may be seen as a ‘cheap device to get laughs’ or a ‘shameless attempt to boost sales’, this book really does have something uniquely appealing about it.

Mr Grahame-Smith does make mistakes however: I cannot fathom how any editor with a basic knowledge of English wildlife, would allow the author to add a scene in which ‘a single chipmunk […] then a skunk’ ‘scurried out of the woods’. In Hertfordshire!

Although the American who ‘once took a class in English literature’ fails at choosing appropriate wildlife, he creates a detailed world of Oriental training to the main characters. ‘The business of Mr Bennet’s life was to keep his daughter’s alive’. To this extent, he accompanied his daughters to China twice, to be trained in the ‘deadly arts’ under the harsh tutelage of Master Liu, who taught them such fighting techniques as ‘Pentagram of Death’. They learnt humility and shame, to make ‘the seven cuts of shame’ on their forearms’ when in the wrong and to correct disrespectable behaviour: ‘Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in punishing the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia with yet bamboo’. However, Lydia and Kitty seem a lost cause, failing to fulfil their oath to protect England against the strange plague: ‘While Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there forever, killing zombies only when it interfered with their chances of flirting with an officer’.

Lady Catherine is one of my favourite characters in this ‘Quirk Classic’, and Grahame-Smith’s alterations make for some truly entertaining dialogue, which add to her portrayal as snobbish and rude. In this extract, she expresses her opinion on the inferiority of Elizabeth’s training:

“Mr Collins tells me that you are schooled in the deadly arts, Miss Bennet.”
“I am, though not to half the level of proficiency your ladyship has attained”
“Oh! Then-some time or other I shall be happy to see you spar with one of my ninjas. Are your sisters likewise trained?”
“They are.”
“I assume you are schooled in Japan?”
“No, your ladyship. In China.”
China? Are those monks still selling their clumsy kung fu to the English? I take it you mean Shaolin?”
“Yes, your ladyship; under Master Liu.”
“Well, I suppose you had no opportunity. Had your father more means, he should have taken you to Kyoto.”
“My mother would have had no objection, but my father hates Japan.”
“Have your ninjas left you?”
“We never had any ninjas.”
“No ninjas! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up in a house without any ninjas! I never heard such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your safety.”

All the interaction between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth is of this sort, from the time when Lady Catherine allows Elizabeth to spar with her ninjas (replacing the piano passage in the original book) and Elizabeth defeats them all blindfolded; Lady Catherine fails to congratulate her. Lady Catherine’s disapproval of the match is shown by challenging Elizabeth at Longbourne’s dojo upon hearing of the supposed engagement,  even sending an army of ninjas to kill both her and Darcy when they finally do get married.

On several occasions, the zombie element better explains the actions of characters such as Charlotte, who admits to Lizzy that she has been ‘stricken’ and will become an ‘unmentionable’, giving a more plausible reason for her to marry Mr Collins, described by Mr Bennet as ‘fatter than Buddha and duller than the edge of a learning sword.’ Also, Darcy’s reason for separating Bingley and Jane is given in his ‘belief that Miss Bennet had been cursed to wander the earth in search of brains’, a fear that Elizabeth herself had when Jane was struck ill on her way to Netherfield, after a zombie encounter.

There are many more highlights that I have failed to mention here, including most of the zombie attack scenes, but I hope that I have convinced you, that even if this book is a bit of a joke, it is a very worthwhile read. If you now find yourself hungering for some fresh comedic brain-food to sink your teeth into, confront this novel with the warrior's code, or bloody your back with wet bamboo in disgrace.

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