Review: Take a bite out of Jane Austen with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Pity the Bennett sisters. Coming of age in the bucolic English village of Meryton, they need to contend not only with the delicate task of finding husbands for themselves, but also with carnivorous "unmentionables," i.e. rotting zombies, who have risen from the Earth and now shamble from one quaint outpost of civilization to another in search of living flesh. It is fortunate indeed that their education included time in the far east, where they learned to kick ass.

Elizabeth, the toughest and fairest of them all, can be followed both taking an intense dislike to Mr. Darcy and tossing a lit flame into a gathering of oil-soaked zombies, while muttering dialogue that serves as hybrid between Romero-movie one-liners and feminine sass. "Let them burn," she snarls. "Let them have a taste of eternity."

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, $12.95), credited to Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, presents the plot and much of the text from from the classic novel, with the addition of ambulatory rotting corpses in search of living people to devour. The alteration leaves the original surprisingly intact, altering some of the referents and dialogue and adding violent encounters to present a landscape under siege from the living dead. We get many of the same personal dynamics and drawing-room witticisms, except with the certainty that something with empty eye sockets can pretty much be counted upon to break into the parlor within a very page; the girls, empowered as warriors, seem colder and crueler, but let's face it: under the circumstances, they would.

It would be nice to report that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is hilarious all the way through, but no. Its one-joke conceit (but very good one-joke conceit) carries it farther than you'd expect, but not all the way to the end. Folks who like zombies for their own sake will likely wish there were more of them and folks unfamiliar with Austen who find themselves enjoying her will likely wish they could wipe away the undead graffiti and see the original as it was meant to read. In practice, this volume is not one you read yourself but one you show to friends with a literary bent in order to see their appalled reaction.

As for Jane Austen herself, the one thing that keeps her from rising from the grave in protest is the difficulty involved in getting to her feet when she's so busy spinning.