Most of the time, I prefer to think of the universe as cold, meaningless and without a greater consciousness that imbues our lives with meaning and guides us with an unseen hand. So you can bet your sweet butt that I sat up and took notice when the universe handed me two of my most favorite things, Jane Austen and zombies, together in the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What? Have all my years of fruitless prayers been answered? There truly is a benign and smiling force who animates both undead flesh and my haphazard existence!
I’ve been waiting on the release of this book for some time with trepidation. The idea is flawless: who doesn’t want to see reanimated corpses intrude upon the landed gentry of Regency England? But the devil is in the details, and I couldn’t know if the execution would match the fevered imaginings of my idle mind.
Austen has always attracted fan-fic, but it’s usually more along the lines of Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. (And when I say takes a wife, what I mean is takes a wife. Right now, I’m doing that fist-pump thing that the immature use to connote sex.) It makes sense. Despite all of her savage, manly wit, Jane Austen’s stories occur in the carefully delineated world of women. Men must want for a wife, not for combat training and the feel of zombie skulls crunching under the weight of a vorpal sword. The fan-fic takes this all to the logical, romance novel end. Women marry, and then sis-boom-bah, other, more entirely throbbing vorpal swords are sunk into flesh, while toes curl and the gardener rustles below the window.
Zombies come with their own, ready-packed symbolisms and meanings: consumerism, a sort of post-Marxist fear of the the rising masses, along with a discomfort toward mass media. One zombie is funny, a lumbering inconsequential, quickly dispatched. But many zombies, and there are always many zombies, is a force of crowd-sourcing, a d.d.o.s. attack, the worm eating your email, the end of modern life as we know it. Like scientologists.
So what happens when we add one symbol cluster to another? Some interesting things, unfortunately done in a less than interesting manner. Many, many people have already noted that while Pride and Prejudicetakes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and soldiers factor prominently in the tale, not one word is breathed about the blood, sucking gunshot wounds and gangrene that is war in the 19th century. (Personally, I’ve always thought this observation was specious. I mean, things are about what they are about, and not about other things. Do we bitch that we don’t know more about Mrs. Lear?) Adding zombies into the story of Lizzie and her Darcy reminds us that life was about more than bonnets and barouches, that people lived and died in service of the motives of the upper classes. Workers of the world unite, and feast on brains.
However, despite my panegyrics in the the service of the idea of this novel, the execution is maybe less than satisfying. Large, large chunks are lifted verbatim from Austen’s story, which is fine and all, but when the text strays, you can feel the graft. For example, Charlotte is bitten by one of the “unmentionables” and slowly succumbs to zombification during the course of her marriage. It works well as metaphor of the slow smothering of an unfortunate match, but to what end? Other people, in equally crappy marriages, do not zombify and need to be beheaded. So, am I just making all that stuff up about badly matched people? Is the only Zombie on top of mountaintops that which I bring with me?
Braaaaaains. (I couldn’t resist.)