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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

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When dealing with a monster story, there are some rules you can break and some you simply cannot. Take vampires, for instance. If you can write a suitably snobby and dismissive blood-sucker, then I'll buy it when he or she walks down the street in broad daylight munching a clove of garlic. You're going to to tell me that werewolves don't need the full moon to transform? Fine, I can live with that too. But when we're talking zombies, there are two things which must be included: an undying hunger for human brains and a ridiculous number of the walking dead.

My hat is off to Mr. Grahame-Smith for being so bold as to take a beloved piece of English literature and force it into the same genre as The Night of the Living Dead. Indeed, the writing is such that a reader can be forgiven for thinking that the "unmentionables" were a part of everyday English country life. Each time Grahame-Smith takes a diversion from the original text, the transition is so smooth that, had Jane Austen been interested in zombies, I'm sure she would have written a strikingly similar novel. That said, I think the modern author has missed the very real fact that zombies are a singular instance of quantity equaling quality.

Have a look at movies like 28 Days Later or the glory which is Army of Darkness. Consider the Resident Evil video game franchise, one of the original digital purveyors of undead mayhem. What do they have in common? A fat lot of zombies, that's what! The reason these games and movies have been so successful, are so entertaining, is that a handful of heroes are faced with a whole horde of walking corpses, hell-bent (sometimes literally) on eating every brain cell they can get their decaying hands on.

As an antagonist type, there's not much to the zombie. He's got no personality which requires development and barely needs a back-story. You can make zombies out of nearly anything: radiation, misguided science, magic, you name it. Shoot, you can even get away without an origin story, provided there are enough hellions to cause a distraction. Zombies are wonderfully disposable, and that's what makes them great. In the case of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, however, this essential rule of undead entertainment has been ignored for reasons I cannot fathom.

Instead, what we have in this book is exactly what the title suggests: it's Pride and Prejudice with some zombies. Most of the book stays true to the original, and there are long stretches in the middle where nothing whatsoever has been changed. The greatest concentrations of "bone-crunching zombie mayhem" come near the beginning and the end. Indeed, there are only two or three scenes which are divergent enough to justify the back cover's promise of a "blood-soaked battlefield."

Don't get me wrong, Pride and Prejudice is a fine novel and made a pretty good movie too, but that's not why I picked up this book. Perhaps I was a victim of my own expectations, but I couldn't help the encroaching boredom as I read more of Jane Austen's words than Seth Grahame-Smith's.

Going into the book, I expected a parody along the lines of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein or Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It seems to me that if you are going to work over a classic, you had better go all the way. In this case, occasionally having Elizabeth Bennet mention her Shaolin training or her never-ending battle against the "stricken" just isn't enough. The reader needs to see her employing this much-vaunted skill more often, otherwise there's little encouragement to choose this version over the original. It took until Chapter 56 before I found something which really met my expectations.

When Lady Catherine visits Elizabeth to order her not to marry Darcy, it is a tense enough scene in the original. Under Grahame-Smith's pen, however, it turns into a thrown-down in the dojo, complete with Elizabeth handily dispatching a few ninjas before going toe-to-toe with Lady Catherine.

The action is well written and the scene is a great departure from the manners-driven world of Hertfordshire. It starts with an important part of the original story and heads in a completely different direction, as any good parody should. Had there been more of an effort to tell the story this way, I think the book would have become infinitely more entertaining. As it is, the light sprinkling of action and brain-eating simply isn't enough to make the new novel live up to its potential.

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