There are certain works that, as soon as you crack their covers, you understand will very quickly join iPods and Girl Talk as tired subjects for cultural critique. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one such book. After only a few pages of Seth Grahame-Smith’s literary remix, you know that, in the coming months, professors will begin receiving papers entitled, “Historicity Assaulted: The Effects of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on Linear Conceptions of Time.” Should this make you like Grahame-Smith’s work any less? No. Will it? Most likely.
The premise behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is such a simple and catchy one that it is surprising it hasn’t been done quite like this before. Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the reality-fiction blurring The Spiderman Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual and How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills, takes Jane Austen’s source text and replaces certain paragraphs and words to make the main plot of the story revolve around a zombie infestation. No longer simply a precocious maid, Elizabeth Bennet has been reared by her parents as a lethal zombie killer. Mr. Darcy is now a zombie hunter extraordinaire. How does it all play out?
Grahame-Smith’s reworking is one that is endangered, in its very premise, to be written off by readers as novelty. There is really only one joke: “Imagine the stodgiest characters from your literary consciousness lifting up their skirts and kicking zombies in the head. Over and over.” The book bars you from even the humor the only outrageous gore or transgression can conjure by continually needling the reader with coy zombie references. It feels much like someone that keeps winking at you while telling a joke. Furthermore, if you have read Pride and Prejudice already, you can pretty much write the book yourself after you figure out the formula around page 10.
However, I doubt that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was written with a mind to close readership. It was likely crafted for the exact same reason that The Zombie Survival Guide was penned, Ed Wood films continue to be released on DVD, and the Snuggie was drawn out from the forehead of Zeus: People love to own curiosities that challenge taste or seem like they should never have been made at all. In fetishizing bizarre pop-culture artifacts they can gather friends around for the much-hoped-for response, “No way. Someone actually made that?”
Enter Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This book, in its very conception, combines this love of ironic bric-a-brac with love of things that can passed off as “indicies of the post-modern condition” or something similar. In fact, Grahame-Smith’s work panders so very thoroughly to these trends in American cultural consumption and pseudo-intellectualism that its execution is almost moot. The mere imaging of this work is a mild product of either genius or very keen cultural attunement.
Is this book actually a milestone in our society’s hurtling through simulacra and simulation? No. Just by virtue of reimagining the events of a novel does not mean that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has anything substantial to say about authorship, literary truth, or historicity. Were it to be penned more carefully such that Austen’s prose was inseparable from Grahame-Smith’s, we could begin a dialogue on whether or not the book deconstructs the author-as-unitary-voice. However, as poor execution would have it, Grahame-Smith’s additions stick out as if they were in red ink, only reinforcing the auteur-ship of the original author.
However, reviews of this book are hardly necessary. No one who buys Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wants to do much more than flip through it, chuckle, and then casually leave it out for friends to comment on and half-heartedly ask to borrow. The asking rate of $12.95 is hardly a king’s ransom to pay for the admiration of your cultural cleverness in owning such a volume.