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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

adapted by Tony Lee from the novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
adapted from the original novel by Jane Austen
art by Cliff Richards
What's It About?This is a graphic novel adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's best selling novel that merges the work of Jane Austen with flesh-eating zombies. In this version the courtly Bennet sisters are fearsome warriors in the war against the undead “Unmentionables”. Elizabeth Bennet's classic tale of love and manners now takes place in equal parts in the ballroom and in battle and disapproving aunts are now far from the only threat she and the arrogant swordsman Mister Darcy have to face.
What's Good About It?I read a few reviews of the Pride And Prejudice And Zombies novel which argued that inserting zombies into the classic diluted one of the books of the Great English Canon. I absolutely disagree, in fact whilst reading this book I had something of a revelation about Pride And Prejudice because I finally understood it. I really mean that. Austen's novel was always a satire of attitudes towards woman in her time.

In the original novel Elizabeth Bennet's reluctance to marry, her strong attitude towards Mister Darcy, even her subtle sarcasm were all designed to be consciously unladylike. Such behaviour was shocking in its time but that time passed long ago. There's a scene in the original where a cousin asks the Bennet sisters which one of them cooked a meal, subtly implying their family is too poor to afford a cook and the family acts subtly offended. In Seth Grahame-Smith's version Elizabeth Bennet threatens to stab her cousin in the neck with a fork, giving violent voice to the passion Austen always meant Elizabeth to feel.

Giving the Bennet sisters muskets and swords and having them slaughtering zombies whilst surrounded by genteel society and fine clothes gives the story back some of that punch. Yes, this is a parody but it's an affectionate one, Seth Grahame-Smith takes the time to match up his new dialogue with Austen's style so there isn't any sense of disconnection between the two. For example:

“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 tactics and weaponry of modern Europe.”

The whole idea of merging Jane Austen with a zombie story is also a pleasant new twist on a genre that's been rather over-exposed the last few years. Thanks to modern cinema we've had slow zombies, fast zombies, rage zombies, sci-fi zombies and far, far too many pirate zombies. This a wonderfully fresh approach to the idea.

What's Bad About It?Jane Austen, like poor Will Shakespeare, is one of those authors whose work has been spoiled for many by having to study it at school. There's nothing like homework to make you hate an author, especially when taught by some of the passionless teachers I had to study under who just told you to read things and never explained anything. Reading Pride And Prejudice at school no one ever mentioned to me it was satirical or that it had a point.

What isn't Austen in this book is designed to be as much like Austen as possible. If you don't like her flowery dialogue style or if school biased you too badly against her work then you probably won't enjoy this book.

What's the Art Like?Cliff Richards draws this novel entirely in pencil without the usual ink layer most comics use to finish and define the art. He draws his figures in varying levels of detail, sketchy and indistinct when they're in the distance but in a more complete, defined style as they move into the foreground. In comparison to his figures Richards' backgrounds are architecturally precise and it's surprising how many different texturing effects Richards can achieve just in pencil.
I have to admit, in the name of fairness, that it did take me a while to tell who was who. In part this was due to the sketchy art style but also because the dialogue doesn't have many signifiers to name people and get the recognition in your head early. It's a small flaw, however, and it didn't take me too long to put names to faces.

Other InformationPride and Prejudice and Zombies (ISBN 978-18485669-41) retails for £9.99 and whilst Amazon lists it as out of print they do sell it cheaply second hand here.

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