Jane Austen goes ‘zombie-rific’

BY BRIAN DAU | APRIL 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Any fan of the undead ought to give Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith’s collaborative effort, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a shot (aiming for the head, of course).

“I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

Mark Twain’s words have never been so prescient. With the release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the idea of digging up the author’s corpse only to strike it down once again fosters an entirely new meaning. With the ever-present popularity of zombies in movies and video games, it was only a matter of time before they awkwardly shuffled their ways into the literary realm.

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The gimmick of the novel is simple enough. Author Seth Grahame-Smith took the original text of Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice and spliced in, you guessed it, the walking dead. Grahame-Smith also added ninjas, muskets, explosions, and a sizable amount of gore to a novel that originally had about as much action as a game of solitaire.

But does Grahame-Smith improve upon one of the “classics” of literature? Well, I suppose that depends on how much you enjoy the original. Let’s face it, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is showing its age — the decaying corpse depicted on the front of the zombified version is an accurate metaphor for the way history has treated the novel. The source text’s fascination with courtship and manners and ballroom dancing doesn’t exactly resonate with modern readers, so why not toss a few reanimated corpses into the fray? I’m in favor of anything to break up the insufferably dry 19th-century dialogue.

The first time a zombie is eviscerated by one of the five Bennett sisters — and it doesn’t take long for that to happen — it’s clear the novel’s literary legs have been hacked off at the knees. The weight of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ entertainment, then, lies almost entirely in its comedic value. The absurdity of the ladylike and gentlemanly denizens of Meryton fending off hordes of bloodthirsty monsters carries the novel pretty far, but even after the general silliness wears off, the novel still has its share of funny moments. The appearance of Lady Catherine and her ninja bodyguards closer to the novel’s end smartly takes the plot in a welcome new direction after a heaping 200-plus pages of zombie-oriented action.

Despite this digression, however, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is still essentially 320 pages of the same basic conceit: In a world where everything has to be utterly prim and proper, these decaying “unmentionables” are ruining everything by constantly trying to consume the living. If the thought of the original Pride and Prejudice evokes immediate and intense feelings of boredom, the spaces between zombie appearances are going to drag and drag like an undead’s decaying foot. But if you can look past (or skim over) the less interesting scenes, Grahame-Smith has crafted an entertaining read impressive in its seamlessness with Austen’s original writing, and more than worthy of a look from any fan of the walking dead.

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