Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Jarv reviews a book!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.
Despite rumours to the contrary, I can and do frequently read books. So for the first. and probably last, time I’m putting a novel in the vault.Most of the novels I read, especially new-ish ones do not count as schlock by any stretch of the imagination, but this clever little work definitely does. This is such a good idea that I cannot believe no-one ever thought of it before: take a “classic” and every time it’s boring add some violence.
I know that this may not come as an earth-shattering surprise, but I loathe Jane Austen novels. I simply can not bear a single thing about them- neither the dreadfully stilted language, nor the dull as shit comedy of manners content (that I consider about as funny as stereo instructions), nor the woefully one dimensional characters. I detest everything about them and suspect that they are actually the Victorian equivalent of dreck like Judith Krantz’s despicable shopping and fucking novels.
However, what really gets my goat about them is the amount of pseudo-intellectual tossers that rate Pride and Prejudice as one of the greatest novels in the English language. It isn’t, and despite what Austen supporters say it holds exactly zero relevance today. Seriously, if you dressed the Bennett family in fucking shell-suits and set it in Milton Keynes (a horrid little chav town in the UK) then it would be a laughably risible premise. It is a lightweight little work (I don’t rate the supposed satire in it one iota, in fact I believe that is completely fabricated by critics/ academics looking for depth that isn’t there) that relies on crappy puns and heaving-breasted lust for the plank of a male lead. I can’t stand it. Case in point, although in reference to this book is this frankly gushing load of tosh from a Jane Austen’s World fansite:
“Seth makes one huge miscalculation in his otherwise spot on satire. Not knowing the workings of the female brain, he makes a mess of Wickham, a bad boy who is secretly admired by over half of Jane’s female fans. While they admit he is a scoundrel, they would not mind having a go at taming this deliciously fun male character. But Seth turns Wickham into a diapered mess of a man, who must be constantly tended after wetting his bed. Not well done, Seth. That’s like forcing Willoughby to drive a donkey cart when you know full well he is a phaeton man. This plot development tells me that Seth wrote the book more for teenage boys and girls, not women.”
That revolting load of mince neatly sums up my contempt for Austen and her readership. It’s the equivalent of Jilly fucking Cooper, for the love of God as sexually frustrated obese shut ins play the hairy piano to dreams of 19th Century English toff’s. Not to mention missing the point about doing to Wickham exactly what he deserves, and finishing the passage with a sly little dig at a group with different interests. Fuck them all.
There is one exception to my general hatred of Austen and belief that it fails to translate to today: Emma, which was very cleverly adapted as Clueless, which is not so much a comedy of manners as a social satire very fucking loosely based on Austen’s original.
So, needless to say, when I was buying my holiday reading and I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sitting there, I had to buy it.
P&P&Z is a good book. The central conceit is reasonably amusing and Grahame-Smith has a suitable handle on Austen’s language. It follows, roughly, the plot of P&P what with it being an annoying family of girls getting married, but he reduces the characters even further. Mrs. Bennett, for example, is a complete fucking twat in Austen’s version, and Grahame-Smith is well aware of this, so reduces her loathsome character to absolute absurdity. He highlights her frivolity and savages her vacuity in many of the exchanges with her husband, and in many of his narrative touches. Take this passage that occurs after Darcy successfully negotiates the youngest Bennett girl, Lydia’s disastrous marriage, for example:
“Dear crippled Wickham! What a husband he shall make! In a short time I shall have a daughter married. Mrs. Wickham! How well it sounds! And she was only sixteen last June.”
Never mind that Wickham abducted her daughter, has left a trail of debt and bastard children across southern England and that Darcy has beaten him into a state of permanent incontinence, all that matters is that her youngest daughter is getting married.
Not only is Grahame-Smith well aware of the myriad failings of Austen’s characters, but he also has a great handle on the very English way of understating matters. P&P&Z is laced with passages of hilarious litotes as he narrates the most gratuitous ultra-violence in authentically stilted language. For example, when Darcy “arranges” Wickham and Lydia?s marriage, Elizabeth is informed of what took place by letter. This letter is, I believe, the single funniest section of the book as it encapsulates and parodies the original work perfectly. This passage is illustrative of the letter as a whole:
“In return, he would marry Lydia, thus restoring her honour, and that of the Bennett family. Second, he would allow Mr. Darcy to render him lame, as punishment for a lifetime of vice, and betrayal, and to ensure that he would never lay another hand in anger nor leave another bastard behind. Darcy personally saw to it that all of this was attended to with the greatest expedience. (I dare say he took particular pleasure in beating Mr. Wickham lame.)”
Genius- this superbly captures the understated language and brilliantly covers the pseudo morality that oozes out of Austen’s work, except with the suggestion of added ultraviolence. This is always a good thing. The example above is not isolated by any means. Zombies are hilariously referred to as “unmentionables” and the most extreme moment of violence in a very violent novel is described thus:
“She delivered a vicious blow, penetrating his ribcage, and withdrew her hand- with the ninja’s still-beating heart in it”
and illustrated thus:
Furthermore, as much as Grahame-Smith completely understands the original, and the language, and he also understands the requirements of schlock. P&P&Z is laced with zombie encounters and amusing displays of “the deadly arts” all of which are narrated in a deadpan tone that fits perfectly into the context of the novel. For example in one encounter, Elizabeth disregards modesty “and delivered a swift kick to the creatures head”. He packs it full of encounters with the plague and just to add a little spice to it throws in some added ninja action. All good stuff.
Moreover, the illustrations and their captions are hilarious:
It really is a well thought out parody. I absolutely salute his dedication to ripping a lauded classic off wholesale and his inventiveness in adding horror and mayhem to a hackneyed mix.
However, I don’t wholeheartedly recommend this novel. It is amusing, and contains a good few laugh out loud passages, but there is a serious downside to it- it’s based on Pride and Prejudice. There is, for me, far too much comedy of manners crap and not enough zombie killing action. This is especially true of the latter stages of the novel, where I found the Austen-esque will-he-won’t-they whinging to be bordering on somnambulant.
Finally, as clever as the idea is, you could do this with practically every work of the period*- Far From the Zombie Crowd or David Copperfield v the Undead Horde work equally well for example. This is not to detract from the conceit, but it can be widely applied. Hopefully it pissed off a good few of the bodice-ripping brigade.
At the end of the day, I’m never going to like this stuff, regardless of how many zombies or ninjas you add to the mix, but this is a close as I’m ever going to get.
*NB- since writing this review I have been informed of the same publisher’s forthcoming Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and the truly wonderful sounding Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by the same author.