A book with mischievous intent, that nearly lives up to its promise

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

As I’ve been reading and revisiting a lot of Austen-ish books, sequels, adaptations and novels inspired by Austen for Shiny New Books upcoming ‘Austen Week’ (from Mon 17th July), I thought it time to dust down, update and repost my review of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which I read and reviewed back in 2009 on my old blog.  Here goes…

The cover of P&P&Z by Doogie Horner, is a “zombification” of this painting of Marcia Fox by William Beechey. (Source Wikipedia)

If you look back to all the reviews, you’ll see that this monster mash-up of the beloved novel totally split the opinions of those who have read it. I’ll tell you mine after a bit of explanation.

Zombies have been plaguing the English countryside for years. It’s no longer safe to venture out alone; you need to be either armed to the teeth, or have safety in numbers. The Bennets are well equipped to deal with the undead, for Mr Bennet and his daughters have been trained in the deadly arts in China and are warriors all, with swords and feet alike, having their own dojo at home to keep their skills honed.

The Zombies and martial arts are all shoe-horned into Austen’s original novel, much of which is left in tact – it’s usually pretty obvious which are the additions and adaptations, although not having read the original for many years, I kept it by me so I could compare and contrast if needed. I am an expert in the BBC’s wonderful P&P series from 1995 though, which enriched this reading immensely – imagining Colin Firth as Darcy slashing and burning the undead…

Sorry, where was I?

The novel starts off really well, it had me chortling enough to have to read the first few lines out loud:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.
“My dear Mr Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is occupied again?”
Mr Bennet replied that he had not and went about his morning business of dagger sharpening and nusket polishing – for attacks by the unmentionables had grown alarmingly frequent in recent weeks.

Even from just this small quote you can see already that it mixes the new and old and rewrites other sentences to fit. Some of the adaptations are witty, and there is the added frisson of a little double-entendre introduced between Lizzie and Darcy. There’s nothing like a little smut to remind you that this mash-up is intended to entertain – some of the other write-ups I’ve read seem to have expected a more serious shock-horror treatment, but the comedy approach was fine by me.

The big problem is, that with one notably sad exception, the zombies are a mere nuisance, seemingly there to prevent travel and explain the high turnover in servants – there are missed opportunities for more zombie mayhem in more elevated circles. It’s mostly a class thing – the rich can afford warrior training and/or servants to do the zombie killing for them, unlike the working class who get devoured with relentless monotony.

There is one real highlight though, appended at the end of the novel which, if you decide to read it, you too must save for the end – in which the author’s comedic credentials are exploited to the full. A neat finish, but I can’t tell you more.

So what did I make of it all?

It was a great concept, (with a fantastic cover). It was fun, but not sustained at the same high level all the way through.  Did I enjoy it enough to read the follow-up title from Quirk Books – Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters co-written by Ben H Winters this time – probably not!  (7 out of 10)

P.S. There is a prequel to P&P&Z called Dawn of the Dreadfuls – which I would read!  (and a sequel too).

P.P.S.  The book was made into a movie released in 2016 – and again opinion was divided. Sadly, I’ve not seen the film to comment, but I’d like to,

Yes, I’m the kind of reader who likes some fun occasionally. I don’t mind others having fun with books that purists would consider sacred – it does need to be done well though, and the book of P&P&Z largely meets that criterion.

Should works from the ‘canon’ be played with? 

Go on! Tell me your opinions – I know you have them!…

Source: Own copy

Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk, 2009) Titan paperback, 176 pages

5 thoughts on “A book with mischievous intent, that nearly lives up to its promise

  1. Jonathan says:

    I liked the idea of this but not being a big enough Austen fan I haven’t actually read it. For me part of the problem is stretching it out to a full novel whereas I would have thought it should just be a short story. Did you find it ok being a full novel length?

    When I first saw these novels it made me think of the Monty Python sketch Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Salad Days’ which is one of my favourite MP sketches. It makes me laugh every time.

  2. AnnaBookBel says:

    It was a bit stretched in the end, but I enjoyed it – especially Mr Collins’ predicament (say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink). Thanks for reminding me of that Python sketch – loved seeing it again – and the one that came up after it (woody words).

  3. Juxtabook says:

    I’ve intended to read this for ages. The opening which you quote I’ve seen quoted before and I thought was a very witty mix of styles. I did wonder if this could be kept up for the length of a full book but your review persuades me it is worth getting for my holiday reading.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It doesn’t quite manage to sustain it at the highest level all the way through, but the appendix is special.

  4. Desperate reader says:

    I watched the film, but haven’t read the book, so will look forward to your opinion on it. I think the same criticism applies though. It’s a decent cast, there are some funny bits, but the joke wears thin after a bit and it doesn’t quite work.

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