Note: I’ve previously discussed this book over at My Tragic Right Hip.
If the pure reason for writing a literary mash up like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is entertainment, then Seth Grahame-Smith accomplished his goals. It’s no literary masterpiece and it certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to being remotely as good as the original, but, well, I can’t deny that it made me laugh once or twice. The novel doesn’t take itself too seriously and I think that’s its saving grace.
If Grahame-Smith had come at this with the attitude of actually thinking he’d improve upon Austen, well, he would have failed miserably. One of the most interesting reviews I read in passing over the summer said something like the book would have been better had the author actually liked Austen’s original (I have no idea where I read this; so please correct me if I’ve gotten it completely wrong). I’d even go a bit further and say that there’s a definite misunderstanding of the time and customs in P+P+Z, and they’re often subverted so that the plot, those mash up aspects, can be clumsily inserted.
That said, the book read more like a current movie adaptation of Austen’s novel than anything else. In fact, entire sections of dialogue read almost verbatim to the Keira Knightley version (yes, I’ve seen it enough times to know), which sort of made the whole enterprise a little more palatable for me. Grahame-Smith got quite a few things wrong — the shrill nature of his Mrs. Bennett doesn’t have any of the savvy humour from the original, and Elizabeth seems to share a lot of her inner thoughts in ways that would have made the original Lizzie cringe (and the whole scene where she almost chops off one of her sister’s heads was just ridiculous).
But in terms of The Undeath Match, it’s hard to compare this book to The Strain. If I’m here to smack it down, as I’m supposed to, I’d say that the “unmentionables” are not remotely as scary as a vampire with a probing half-jaw/half-tongue thingy that ejects from their mouths to suck your blood. They seem to be easily dispensed of and seemingly endless, which I guess is the point of zombies. But, yawn, in terms of the endless discussion of different fighting techniques, and double yawn, in terms of the faux “battle of the sexes” stuff between Elizabeth and Darcy — this definitely works far better in the original and as it was intended to be read. However, the last scene pivotal fight scene, and I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, is truly awesome. And I can’t really criticize it at all, actually.
I suppose there’s something to be said about keeping up what is kind of a joke of a premise on a semi-serious level throughout the book. But doesn’t it fall flat? There’s no emotional currency running through the book added by the zombies. I mean, other than Charlotte (and gross, gross, gross), not a single character is truly affected by their presence. They’re almost like members of the lower classes — forgotten until they get in your way on the road from one estate to the other. In The Strain, the vampire-like creatures provide a very real and very sustained threat to the life and livelihood of the main characters, there’s something at stake, there’s a reason to be fighting them. And trying to fold “fighting skills” into the ideals of the time, the education of women and the idea that to be considered of consequence you must have excellent skills, feels a little forced.
Regardless, all the power to P+P+Z for creating a brand-new “form” of fiction at a time when the death of publishing in general is being touted, and for proving that the words “internet sensation” aren’t just lip service.
So, holler back Wagstaff — how do you come at The Strain?