Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: PPZ

Being a Pride & Prejudice fan (a big fan; I've owned at least three copies of the book, which are in various states of dilapidation due to overuse, and I own both of the recent versions of the film, both the 6 hour BBC and the Keira Knightley version), I felt like I should read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It sounded cheeky and entertaining, and the idea of introducing "ultraviolent zombie mayhem" and ninjas seemed like it could be a novel way of critiquing not only Austen's society, which was largely the point of P&P, but of critiquing our own. After all, aren't so many violence-soaked, video game-playing, brain-dead members of society just zombies anyway?

Initially, I found the revamp surprisingly effective and fun. Lizzy Bennet is sharp-witted and nimble of mind, and it made perfect sense that she'd also be sharp of sword and nimble of feet. Mocking the pretensions of society vs. turning that same society into zombies who then get their heads cut off? A good parallel. I have to admit that the line "Girls! Pentagram of Death!" made me crack up. And for modern readers, having the militia quartered in Meryton for the purposes of protecting the town from the undead is a better explanation than the seemily random troop rotations of Austen's time.

After that, though, things got a little weird, and not because Charlotte Lucas turns out to be a zombie. Rather, Seth Grahame-Smith dropped the ball. The latter third of the book, at least, is about what it was always about: the developing relationship between Lizzy and Darcy, and their mutual recognition that the person they most hated in the world is actually the person who suits them best. Turning Miss Darcy's piano into a katana sword and Darcy's sitting room into a dojo doesn't change that. And so it stopped being Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and started being Pride & Prejudice (with a couple of random zombie/ninja mentions thrown in). And maybe because I love P&P so much, I stopped finding the zombies entertaining, and started finding them instrusive--in food metaphor, I wanted to stop finding bits of wasabi in my mashed potatoes. If PPZ wasn't going to be something significantly different, and different with a purpose, then I wanted what I know and love back again, unadulterated.

That's pretty much how I finished the book feeling. If Grahame-Smith had been able to make the zombies do something--provide some form of social commentary, or significantly change the plot of the book, or suprise & delight in some way--then they would have been a most welcome addition. As they were, they just became kind of annoying. I'd rather see Lizzy verbally spar with Lady Catherine than physically spar with her any day--they're both much better at the verbal. If the existence of PPZ makes people read Pride & Prejudice who would never have thought of doing so before, great, because P&P is something that I think everyone should read at some point in their lives. But otherwise, it was a fun idea not particularly well executed. I do, however, recommend reading the Book Club questions at the end. They manage to mock P&P, zombies, the author, Oprah, and readers all at once; if the book had managed to be effective as the questions, it would have been a great read.