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Friday, September 4, 2009

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

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 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

View all my reviews >>

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.

17 comments:

  1. That's so depressing, I was really looking forward to PPZ too! :-(

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  2. Interesting review. I recently stood in a bookstore reading bits of this, and I thought it was pretty funny. I wasn't sure if I'd 'get over' it too quickly to finish it though. Sounds like maybe I would!

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  3. i am not usually sqeemish but I can never get past the cover on this one!..

    (love your header photo of the rat!!! very original!)

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  4. Re: Lauren --
    I did the same thing when I saw it, and I drooled over it forever because I love the cover and the idea. Turns out, the funny bits I'd read were it, basically. If he had kept that tone through out, it could have been fantastic. But it was more like he didn't know how to, so he just picked parts that he knew he could manipulate, and he focused on them, which left it feeling disjointed and weird.

    I was disappointed, too, April. I wanted to like this. I knew about 20 pages in that I wouldn't.

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  5. I actually really loved this book. Most people I've come across did not though. Though, I do agree with some of what you said (unfortunately, I really loved the "balls" joke, lol).

    I noticed that G-S failed at mimicking Austen's style, but what did he expect, really?

    Good review, though! (: I'm not familiar with zombie books -- this was my first. I'm gonna have to peruse this blog more thoroughly to find some more to read. ;)

    Rachel

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  6. I think I could have liked the balls joke (and all the rest) if that tone had been set from the beginning and I knew what I was in for. But until then, it hadn't gone crude, it had stayed pretty traditional, so I was thrown. I actually didn't get it at first, it was so out of place. I was like, 'Why is Lizzie blushing?' I felt like a dumbass when I got it, but it was out of nowhere.
    It was strange, too, that most of the crudeness came from Darcy, even though it's so far from his character. G-S kept him pretty much the same, but then threw this occasional skeeziness in, and it didn't fit.
    I do still look forward to seeing it, though. I hope it's handled better, because it could be really amusing.

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  7. !! I forgot it was going to be a movie! I'm pretty stoked now that you remind me. (:

    The Outsiders was awesome. I finished it today.

    And I generally don't like 1st Person because I find them so unreliable. That's my biggest beef with it. But, I will for the first time grudgingly admit -- right here -- that I'm becoming a fan.

    All the books I've been reading have been 1st Person; add that with my writing assignment and I'm starting to think it's okay....

    I may convert yet. ;)

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  8. I've been putting this book off since I have sooo many other books to read. And after reading this, it might have to hold off a little longer. Nice review Misty!!!

    I love your theme weeks!!!

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  9. Despite loving the cover of this book and reading some positive reviews I just cannot imagine actually making the effort to pick it up and read it. I am a fan of Jane Austen's stories and more often than not I do not enjoy these kind of 'reimaginings' of works that I like. I would be much more intrigued if he had used Pride and Prejudice as an inspiration for a Regency era zombie tale.

    I enjoyed reading your review and feel like you gave some really solid reasons for your disappointment...reasons that again tell me that I probably wouldn't be happy if I picked this up. The errors you describe just add to that feeling. Considering how much books cost and the fact that people get paid to proof-read I find it very annoying when books contain a bunch of errors. It is one thing in an ARC, quite another when a book makes it to the store shelves.

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  10. Re: Carl

    My thoughts exactly. And when much of the work had been done for you, you're essentially writing a short story, there's no excuse for sloppy mistakes.
    I am always leery of JA fanfic and adaptations, but this sounded so different (and the first few pages lead you to believe it will be what it claims to be),so I gave it a shot. And wasted my money.

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  11. Well, it's good that you're honest. ;)

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  12. BTW: you've just been awarded
    http://vvb32reads.blogspot.com/2009/09/zombie-chicken-award.html

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  13. It's kind of scary...Not the book, but the direction in which it lead a lot of writers: if you can't come up with anything good, just put a bunch of random characters together with a random plot and see what happens. There are some great spoofs out there and some great comedy based on nonsense (Seinfeld), but we have to set some boundaries...

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  14. I couldn't agree more. And if you are going to go with inserting randomness, the least you can do is proofread.

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  15. Crap. I was looking forward to reading this one! I can't count the number of times I've added it to my armful of books-to-be-bought at Barnes and Noble, than hesitantly put it back in favor of another book. I'll probably still give it a read, but I think I'm just going to add myself to the waitlist at the library instead of buying it. Thanks for the review!

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings

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  16. Oh Dear :0(

    I was looking forward to this as P&P is my favourite classic and I love Zombies too.

    I will probably read it anyway but may wait awhile and push other books up my TBR pile

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  17. This is one book I won't be picking up. I've read too many bad reviews of it, and if I have trouble understanding the original, I doubt I'll get this version either. Plus, I was put off reading historicals with fantasy elements when I read In Quest of Theta Magic by Enid Wilson. Part of it ws Jane Austen-esque, the rest was science fiction and completely odd when put with the former. It sounds like something similar happened here. Not for me. Great review, Misty.

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