03 February 2009

Jane Austen: Flesh-Eater

Update: Here’s the review.

Here’s an upcoming book that immediately shot to the top of my list of “must-reads” of 2009: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, available in April from Chronicle Press.

Yes, you read the byline correctly. For those of you who feared that there would never come a pairing of the author of Sense and Sensibility and the author of How to Survive a Horror Movie, your dreams have finally come true.

“Okay,” most of you are thinking, “just what the hell is this?”

This, ladies and gentlement, is re-contextualization, one of my favorite literary activities. Taking a well-known work and putting it in a completely different format to see what happens. Not necessarily to make fun of the original, or to satirize it, although that is often the re-contextualizer’s goal. My favorite cases of re-contextualization are simply an author asking “What if?” What happens to a classic story if turned on its head in weird circumstances?

For example, “What if Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice with a major co-plot about flesh-eating zombies?”

According to the press for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the novel uses Austen’s text, but adds new characters and situations that will put Elizabeth Barrett up against a zombie invasion while dealing with the distracting appearance of Mr. D’Arcy. A delightful comedy of manners with bone-crunching zombie action. I can’t wait. This will be the literary equivalent of Shaun of the Dead, where two well known genres—British rom-com and zombie apocalypse—get crammed together and still manage to keep their individual integrity.

This does, however, mean that I will need to re-read Pride and Prejudice, which I haven’t touched since high school. To really get the most from the new book, I need to have the basic text in mind so I can pay attention to the grafting from the new author.

I’m sure fans of Jane Austen will scream about this book getting written and published (Public Domain, you can’t stop it!), but I have this to say to anyone who’s worried about this posthumous collaboration: Pride and Prejudice will survive just fine on its own, thank you. It’s a literary classic, it will continue to sit on bookstore and library shelves in every part of the globe, and only a few folks like me, who are into literary experimentation and genre-oddness, are going to pay attention to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, let alone read it. Ms. Austen’s name will remain in good standing, I have no doubt.

I’ve started to wonder what other Public Domain English classics could stand some re-contextualization. Maybe David Copperfield… with Orcs!