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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

I’ve been toting this book around on my daily commute most of the past week and so far have on two separate occasions been asked what it’s about.

As I so eloquently explained to a fellow commuter on the New Jersey PATH train a few hours ago, “It’s the regular Pride and Prejudice, but then this guy went through and put in parts about zombies.”

Before going into further detail, I feel that I should confess to never having read the original Pride and Prejudice. In face I’ve never read anything by Jane Austen, though not for lack of trying. I’ve picked up P&P as well as Emma on more than one occasion and sincerely tried to read them, but somewhere before page five I always either find myself so massively uninterested in the plights of bored, unemployed, English ladies complaining about the manners of other bored, unemployed English ladies and gentlemen or so completely annoyed by Austen’s arch narrative tone that I have to either put the book away or gouge out my own eyeballs with a spork.

So, naturally, when I realized that someone else had also made a connection between Jane Austen and gory dismemberment, I was intrigued.

Usually the idea of a spoof is to alter the spirit of the original by making it funnier and more irreverent. Not so with PP&Z. The spirit of the original is more or less preserved, which is appropriate since the purpose of the original is to lampoon the foibles of allegedly-sophisticated socialites. In that sense, P&P is already irreverent, although you’d need a Regular English/Snobby British English dictionary to realized it.

The main difference between P&P and PP&Z is that, in the social circles augmented by Seth Grahame-Smith, an accomplished young lady is expected not only to learn drawing, piano prowess, and conversational skills, but also to study abroad under a ninja master and thus learn the “deadly arts” for her own protection and the occasional after-dinner deadly duel.

This is necessary because nineteenth century England is being ravished by a zombie plague. Elizabeth, our fair heroine who is now also in possession of a “sparring gown,” musket, Katana sword, and ever-present, ever-feminine ankle dagger, gets to demonstrate her proficiency in the “deadly arts” many times, usually on journeys between manor houses but also when dinner parties and balls are interrupted by the invading undead. Her sisters are also highly trained warriors, but this doesn’t make the younger ones even remotely less shallow or the eldest even remotely less sensible and sweet-natured.

Now the real question: Is it funny?

Well, sort of. I laughed some at the first few chapters, but then the book as a whole fell into the “same old joke” trap. A quarter of the way through I found my attention wandering and my annoyance at Austen’s tone (which Grahame-Smith studiously mimics even during the most gory scenes) almost as sharp as ever.

Happily, since the original plot is pretty much in tact, the timeless love complications and astute observation of bourgeois life kick in to hold interest as delight at the zombie shtick flags. Also, as I explained to a random inquisitive girl at Starbucks, it’s probably funnier if you’ve read the original.


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