Review: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Ok, this is hardly a new book, but I only just got around to reading it. The concept is simple: take Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice” and add zombies to jazz it up.
From A Reader’s Perspective
This book could so easily have gone down like a lead balloon. Not only does the idea of melding a country-wide zombie plague with historical English fiction about high society seem ridiculous, but the Bennet sisters are changed to be schooled in martial arts.
Incredibly, the execution actually works very well. I confess I haven’t read the original, though I have seen the BBC adaptation, and it appears that large swathes of the story remain unmolested. Thus we have the classic prose and the story of Elizabeth and Darcy, and only occasionally do the modifications the the story come through. Their comic value is increased by Grahame-Smith’s restraint.
From A Writer’s Perspective
Grahame-Smith hasn’t inserted the new elements willy-nilly, and this makes a big difference. More often that not, the zombies are referred to as the “unmentionables” or the “dreadful”, and that matters because it helps to keep the reader in the story. Similarly, though frequent mentions are made of characters having trained in China or Japan, their skills are consistently referred to as the “deadly arts”. In taking the time to cast the new elements in the light of the original time period, Grahame-Smith avoids jarring the readers from the story.
I consider it a lesson is choosing your words carefully. If a writer is trying to represent a time period other than the present day, then often that period will have its own language conventions or vernacular. The author must be sensitive to this or risk jolting the reader out of the story. In a similar vein, people read fantasy in order to escape from the present, if only for a little while, and language has as much to do with this as setting, magic or funny clothes.
On reflection, what Grahame-Smith appears to have done with/to this book is not so much to insert extra elements where he saw fit, but to ponder how the society of the time would be affected if the dead really were to rise. That in itself is a lesson in world-building.