As the title of this blog might suggest, I am not particularly reverent when it comes to classic literature. But when I first heard that a bold soul named Seth Graeme-Smith had dared to mix the ever-popular zombie apocalypse genre with my second-favorite Jane Austen novel, I wasn’t quite sure how to react. Pride and Prejudice is a near-perfect romantic comedy. What would the addition of zombies do to this love story?
Surprisingly, the answer is “less than you might expect.”
For the first half or so of the book, P&P&Z is an enjoyable ride through a funhouse-mirror version of P&P. Graeme-Smith has left much of Austen’s prose intact, with one significant alteration: zombies now run amok in the English countryside. These unfortunate undead, doomed to wander the earth in search of brains to eat, are the victims of a terrible plague that has seized the country. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennett is now renowned not only for her beauty and wit, but also for her skill as a slayer of zombies. (She has learned these skills, naturally, by training with Shaolin monks.) While her sister Jane’s suitor Mr. Bingley isn’t much use with a gun or blade, Bingley’s haughty friend Mr. Darcy is Lizzy’s equal in zombie-slaying ability. Darcy’s obnoxious aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh is now a renowned slayer of zombies who employs an army of ninjas at Rosings Park. Zombies are also used to explain some of P&P‘s more puzzling moments. Most notably, it is revealed that Lizzy’s sensible friend Charlotte Lucas marries the insipid Mr. Collins because she has contracted the “unmentionable” plague and wants a husband who will give her a proper Christian beheading.
But around the time Lizzy rejects Mr. Darcy’s first proposal with a swift kick to the head, the zombie conceit began to lose my interest. Part of my growing boredom was due to Graeme-Smith’s clumsy handling of the youngest Bennett sister’s elopement with the dastardly Mr. Wickham. Graeme-Smith alters the events surrounding the elopement and both Lydia and Wickham’s motives become very fuzzy. I am still unsure of exactly what happened, which bothered me. I’m fussy enough about plot consistency to want it even in my comic-zombie-parody novels.
More significantly, I increasingly resented the way the zombies were getting in the way of, well, Pride and Prejudice. All I really wanted at that point was to watch Lizzy and Darcy work out their misunderstandings and arrive at their well-deserved happy ending, not read more about zombies and ninjas roaming the English countryside. Austen’s story about two flawed but worthy people who bring out the best in one another is a classic for a reason. Apparently it takes a lot more than undead mayhem to outshine Lizzy and her Mr. Darcy.
Rating: Library Loan