Saturday, June 27, 2009


Like a Jane Austen novel you really want to read, says the flap copy quote for this NY Times bestseller by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith. That would be a fine anti-intellectual sentiment but for those of us who, pardon me, actually liked dipping into a long-vanished world of manners and nuances, precious in the good sense of the word as rare and valuable. The zombies are a cheap distraction and a trivializing of Jane Austen's world. Except there is, I think, something more clever going on here besides a clever take-off precious in the pejorative sense. You get the idea that the zombies somehow represent the dark repressed underside of British culture--the savage cannibalisitc force of empire underneath this formal society.

It's a strange virus. One bite turns a living person dead and then they develop a lust for munching brains but can be fooled into attacking a cauliflower. Very funny also to see an Elizabeth and Darcy who are trained martial arts warriors--Elizabeth vowed to defend the crown until death or her wedding. But it's going a bit far, at least for this fan of the unadulterated P&P to have her eat the beating heart of a vanquished ninja foe, kind of pushes the barbaric British aristocracy thing. But then that is the point of this sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle often clever parody or homage--who knows?

I like that even Jane, the most saint-like Bennett sister, could be a victim of the zombi flu and that Liz's best friend Charlotte does succumb. Seems the enemy is ultimately them in this alternative classic. The dawning awareness is when Lizzie and Jane are dispatching zombies and see a sight they had never seen, a zombie infant and mother. Since they weren't being attacked they show mercy to the gruesome pair. Though later Darcy and Liz can't resist dispatching a group who haven't done anything to them, but that's the joy of new love, fighting together.

And that is essentially the heart of Jane's book, still intact, the comedy of manners leading to love's declaration and Liz awakening from antipathy to cherishing Darcy. The difference, grafted on, is the zombie flu hanging over England. Even the powerful martial arts skills of Lady Catherine and serum that slows down the flu's transformation, can't really save England. When Liz bests her in a fab duel, she doesn't spare her life from mercy--her nature is to savage--but a calculation to retain Darcy's love. What could be more Jane Austen? Caution on this recommendation.