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[personal profile] tispity
Bit behind on this!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith

A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages; she must be well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the modern tactics and weaponry of Europe...

First published last year by Quirk Classics, this book really ushered in a new and bizarre genre: mash-up fiction. The novel expands Austen's famous tale of love and self-learning to include, as the blurb proudly proclaims, "all new scenes of bone crunching zombie mayhem." It's an insane concept, and what's more insane is that it actually works surprisingly well. The original story remains largely intact: trimmed of course but with the main plot and many of the key passages and conversations pretty much unchanged from the original. On the surface, the juxtaposition - between the gut-wrenching gore and filth of the shambling undead, and a society in which arriving with a muddied hemline is considered a scandal - is obviously the source of most of the novel's humour, but as I got further into the book what surprised me most was how well the zombie menace actually did fit with the feel of the original. Austen writes about a society that is already highly codified and restrictive; in this retelling ladies are expected to be as accomplished in martial arts as they are at music and needlework. As combat arts are also highly disciplined with strict codes, values and move-sets, that aspect of the book actually worked well with the existing plot, with Lizzy's willingness to bend the rules and marking her out as a formidable warrior as well as a witty discourser. Speaking of alleged wit, while there was plenty to laugh at here, what I didn't like were many of the added verbal puns. There were quite a few sex jokes and double entendres thrown in along the way and those seemed stupid in a different and less amusing way to the zombie thing. I probably sound like a bit of a prude for saying that, but in fact I've nothing against sex jokes at all (far from it) they just didn't feel right here, and as they didn't add anything to the horror plot either, they just felt cheap and pointless.

The book's blurb cheekily announces that Grahame-Smith's additions transform Austen's classic "into something you'd actually want to read" but actually, rather than improving the original, this mash-up had the opposite effect, reminding me just how quietly cutting, romantic and, well, just damn good, Pride and Prejudice actually is! The zombies were amusing, there were some good fight scenes and a few of the plot alterations (particularly those concerning Charlotte Lucas) kept me guessing as to what would happen next, but still the scenes I enjoyed most in this were those transferred almost straight from the original: Darcy's first, infuriating proposal scene, and Lizzy's fearless verbal sparring with Lady Catherine (though this becomes physical too here, it's the original reason for the encounter that still captivates most). It's definitely a sign of Austen's genius that her novel can undergo this sort of irreverent treatment without losing its original spark!

Quirk Classics are a fun idea and I think a surprising amount of thought went into this mash-up. I'm not sure if the same can be said for all the subsequent volumes. They do seem to be churning out this sort of thing at an alarming rate now so I wonder if they all hold together as well as P&P&Z generally does. I don't think my poor brain could handle too much of this brand of literary craziness at a time but that said, I am very keen to get hold of Quirk's Android Karenina as the idea of steampunk Tolstoy pushes so many of my awesome buttons!

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

He could smell the rich damp air coming in the tent-flap. He could feel the shape of the ground through his back. My own, he kept saying to himself. My place, Thornhill's place.
But the wind in the leaves on the ridge was saying something else entirely

A much more sombre prospect than my preceding read, this is a brilliant piece of historical fiction, exploring the early colonial history of Australia. I was already a huge admirer of Grenville's work but I think this is her best to date. Though simply told this story really balances on a knife-edge some hugely emotive and powerful issues. Grenville allows us to feel tremendous sympathy for Thornhill, her London-born protagonist: born into desperate poverty Thornhill doesn't have much of a life ahead of him until one hunger-inspired petty crime too many sees him and his young wife and child transported to the growing colony at Sydney. Earning his pardon, in this new land, Thornhill sees the opportunity to wipe the slate clean: here prosperity comes through hard work and strength of character, rather than from inherited status as it does, suffocatingly, in late eighteenth-century London. As a reader I wanted Thornhill - and particularly his vivacious wife Sal - to find happiness in their new small holding beside the Hawkesbury River, but at the same time, I knew from history that their prosperity would be bought at a terrible price: the displacement and, worse, slaughter of so many of the area's native inhabitants. I think this story could so easily have become a preachy piece about racial differences and the many injustices suffered by the indigenous Australians, but Grenville always manages to avoid that. She portrays the tribespeople Thornhill encounters with tremendous dignity: contrasting their very different way of life with Thornhill's capitalism as he seeks to ape the lifestyle of the rich gentlemen who have always previously oppressed him. But, though she doesn't shy away from describing the violence and atrocities committed by some of the settlers, many of them possess a resourcefulness and determination that attracts admiration too. Rather than clear cut "goodies" and "baddies" The Secret River, more accurately and depressingly, presents just "losers" and "other losers."

As an Australian herself, in crafting this novel, Grenville fearlessly drew on aspects of her own history and her message here, above all, seems to be one of remembrance. It is important to remember the conflict, carnage and courage that built modern Australia, just as, in the novel, Sal clings to her few mementos of London, singing "Oranges and Lemons" and teaching the names of the old city's churches to her growing brood of children - infants who have only ever known life in the bush, and who obligingly memorise the words as if chanting some alien language. As well as the amazing descriptions of the landscape surrounding the Hawkesbury, it is such small-scale domestic scenes that give the novel its melancholy power. Impressive stuff.

Date: 2010-08-24 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vientral.livejournal.com
I'm once again very glad that you've reviewed something I was torn about reading. (Pride and Prejudice..) lovely review, made me want to read P&P and not the 'mash-up' which sounds as though it might be a little too provoking for me (the sex jokes, 'something you'd actually want to read' etc).

Date: 2010-08-24 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tispity.livejournal.com
Thanks, I'm so pleased to hear you enjoyed my review. I think this kind of stuff definitely isn't to everybody's taste, it was certainly fun and amusing in places but the humour derived from contrast, not from the inserted puns. Compared to the subtler sparkling wit in Austen's original the sex puns definitely seemed lame.

I do suspect the blurb was probably written by someone other than Seth Graham-Smith, though, as for all the gore and silliness I feel he does show more reverence for the original than the back cover implies.

Date: 2010-08-24 07:37 pm (UTC)
lizzie_borden: Lizzie & Necrophonic (c) by us (Default)
From: [personal profile] lizzie_borden
We saw Android Karenina at the library the other day and drooled over the cover as well as the interior illustrations. It's definitely on my list when I get some spare reading time.

Date: 2010-08-24 08:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tispity.livejournal.com
Yeah I love the cover art too. Haven't had the chance to see the inside illustrations yet but I can imagine they're worth seeing. This one is definitely on my list to get! I'd imagine it's a fairly chunky old volume seeing as the original's enormous anyway and they've added a whole load of new characters!


tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)

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