Zombie Chic

The enthusiastic reviews of the current bestseller “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by “Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith” encouraged me to buy a copy. I laughed when I first saw the book displayed in the window of a Capitol Hill bookshop. So clever, so droll, it seemed.

And yet. Now, having dutifully read through the thing, waiting for the moment when it would make me laugh, or smile, or even admire the inventiveness of Mr. Grahame-Smith, I find myself back where I started, at the title. The title is funny. The rest of the book, rather like its purported innovation, lifeless. Things happen, the plot plods along, more or less faithfully following the events of the original masterpiece, but the added element of zombie attacks thrown in at intervals is rather like a nudge with an elbow to a sleeping classmate who has been called upon to comment on last night’s reading assignment in English class.

On the back of the book the claim is made that Grahame-Smith’s reworking of the Austen classic “transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read.” Well, I suppose I should have realized from that telling phrase that the book was written by someone who never appreciated Austen and thus could hardly be expected to improve upon her work. And since I am one of those who reread Austen’s six novels regularly for pleasure, rather in the way that some other people might go to a spa for a lift, I should have guessed that, for me, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” would fall short of entertainment.

For me, reading “P&P&Z” was like reading a copy of a beloved text that had been cut up by some toddler with his first pair of scissors and then scribbled on by some novice graffiti artist. I have nothing against toddlers. And I respect graffiti as an art form and a means of personal expression which, like all art, can run the gamut from the extraordinary to the toddleresque.

But I guess I was hoping for a bit more sparkle, a bit more cleverness. Hell, even a touch of irony in these irony-rich times would have been welcome. But no. It was not to be. What we get in “P&P&Z” is a dogged reassembling of Austen’s components—all the characters are there, all the main plot points, etc.—without a spark of wit (unless your taste in humor is satisfied by the occasional quips about Mr. Darcy’s musket balls). Sigh.

The most amusing aspect of the entire book is the “Reader’s Discussion Guide” at the end, in which Grahame-Smith gleefully skewers the sort of stuffy essay questions that turn a lot of students against literature.

Oh well. The important thing is to get those kids reading, right? And if it means we have to butcher the classics and remove all the brains from the writing, well, perhaps that’s not all bad. It could have been worse.

But, it could have been so much better. Not all zombie fiction is lifeless and flat. Consider, for instance, the Discworld fantasies of Terry Pratchett, whose zombie Igor is fully fleshed out, wryly humorous and even a sympathetic character. We care about Igor.

What if Mr. Darcy had become a zombie in the course of the story, and had handled himself with a quiet dignity and self-deprecating humor, and Elizabeth had been irresistibly drawn to him in spite of his rotting flesh? Ah, the possibilities.

Still, I expect we haven’t seen the last of the brain-eating hordes. When a mash-up novel about a plague of zombies makes the New York Times bestseller list, can a sitcom about madcap zombies be far behind? Got brains?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.