I bought this awhile ago and couldn't make myself get through it, but I decided to buckle down and read it for Zombie Week and my Helluva Halloween Challenge.
The Goodreads review is spoiler-free, but the bonus material does get spoilery...
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a spoof retelling of the classic Jane Austen romance, with the addition of, well, zombies. Or I should say 'insertion' of zombies, because they were basically plopped down in the middle of the story; it was like reading Regency-era zombie Mad-Libs (trust me, that sounds more exciting than it is).
The five Bennet sisters have been trained in the deadly arts to slay the zombie menace, and second sister Elizabeth is the premier fighter among them; she's sworn off men and just about everything but her bloodlust -- until some new people take up residence in her town, and she finds herself the object of the grand Mr. Darcy's attention. The story that follows is pretty well-known: it's basically the original "romance" story, the template for all that followed (and never quite matched up), but with "extra violent zombie mayhem." I'm not going to waste any more of your time on a synopsis; the story is known, and Grahame-Smith didn't change much in terms of the fundamental story.
What he did change was the essence of the story. I was really looking forward to this, as it sounded like a brilliant idea for a spoof, and the first chapter led me to believe that I was going to get what I wanted. I didn't.
The original P&P has some of the most famous lines in English literature, and where Grahame-Smith altered them to fit the context of a zombie novel, there were moments of brilliance, and some great humor. But most of the time, the alterations weren't really in the favor of context; there were random bizarre changes that didn't lay the groundwork for zombies, and didn't serve to do anything other than muddle the flow and make the story confusing. This may just be that I know the text so well that the changes threw me, but really, there were so many unnecessary changes that I didn't see a need for and just didn't get. Also, there were times when he simple cut some of the best lines/sections in the book -- he didn't alter them or cut them to fit context, he just cut them completely for no apparent reason, or altered them in his own words, which were always more clumsy.
Another big issue for me is the alteration of the characters. Of course, to make the principals fighters of the undead. I was expecting some overhaul, and I was prepared for it. But I think he used too heavy a hand. One of the delights of the original is Lizzie; she's funny and lively and doesn't let things get to her too easily. In G-S's version, Lizzie is blood-thirsty and overly-aggressive, and really not all that likable as a lead. Every perceived slight is a dishonor punished preferably by death. Sometimes her reactions are funny and read a little more true, but most of the time, it's just like, 'Really?'
There didn't seem to be much effort made at melding the two aspects of the story (original romance and G-S's zombie story); it read more like a writing exercise in which G-S printed out the original text and slipped in lines here and there, or chunks of fighting, and left them as he thought of them, rather than smoothing them into the text and making it flow. The two halves were often disparate and at war with each other. Sometimes, it was like he wasn't sure what feel or tone to aim for, so he tried a bit of everything, which meant that nothing worked in the end.
The discussion questions were funny in that G-S poked fun at himself, too. And there were times when he struck just the right tone, or twisted a classic scene to fit his context, and it worked perfectly. Sadly, those parts were few and extremely far between. All in all, it will probably work as a movie, and it may have worked as a book in more deft hands, handled effectively, but as is, it is a disappointment
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Bonus Material: !!!SPOILERY!!!
This "writing exercise" feel also showed in the editing/proofreading. There were weird errors that really should have been caught at some stage. For example, Wickham is sent to Ireland (rather than Northumbria) at the end, to a place called Kilkenny -- which became Kilkerry 2 pages later, and then went back to Kilkenny a few pages after that. There were also weird spelling errors, comma and agreement issues (that were not Jane's, I'm familiar with her issues) -- basically random things that should have been caught. Frankly, this just seemed lazy; if most of your story is already written and ready to go for you, the least you can do it be on your game for the few sections you had to write yourself.
There were also weird crude sexual references that just didn't fit the tone (really, Mr. Grahame-Smith, you're going to make a "balls" joke? Balls in Regency England should be taffeta, not testicle, unless it's a damn good ball joke; and don't even get me started on 'fingering,' Mrs. Gardiner sleeping around, or Georgiana sketching nude men). I get adding silly stuff like this to spice it up; it is a spoof after all. But don't be lazy; make it work. And really, there's no need to use the word 'vomit' quite so much. The only thing that made the vomit references funny was the discussion question mentioning it -- and you might be lucky if people make it that far.
My favorite term for zombies was "manky dreadfuls." Most realistic: the "unmentionables."
My favorite section: Lizzie's first encounter with Lady Catherine, where LC grills L on her upbringing; in the original, she enquires about their education and governesses in the original, and about combat training and ninjas in the spoof. It was one of those spots that showed what the book could have been. (or it 'shewed', in honor [honour] of my Jane).
Don't take my word for it? Here's a negative review from my friend Jeannie, and a positive review that I found amusing, though I don't know the person.
There's a graphic novel version slated for release in 2010.
Here's Seth Grahame-Smith discussing the book with Entertainment Weekly.
For an excerpt and brief audio commentary from NPR, click here.