Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes a tremendous first impression. It may actually be impossible to think of two works of imagination with less in common than a Jane Austen novel and a zombie movie. Putting them together is a stroke of comic inspiration.
The cover is a pitch-perfect spoof of paperback editions of literary classics. It features a painting of a pretty young woman in an empire-waist dress who would make a plausible Elizabeth Bennett if the flesh of the lower half of her face wasn’t ripped away and her clothes weren’t splattered with blood.
The idea is spectacular. The execution is flawless. That fact that the novel was actually published makes the whole thing funnier. But the book itself is a bore.
The problem is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies contains one joke – that Elizabeth Bennet and other members of the English gentry are lethal zombie killers – and it tells this joke the same way each time. Further, Grahame-Smith doesn’t interact with Austen’s text most of the time. He just pastes in references to zombies where it’s convenient. As result, the humor of the book wears out the moment its novelty does.
This makes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies largely a wasted opportunity. So many of Austen’s characters might as well be zombies, as Grahame-Smith himself has noted, that it’s disappointing he didn’t take the final step and turn them into ones.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be perfect as the undead queen of England, but she is simply another deadly warrior in the novel. George Wickham would make an excellent vampire. He’s already a heartless, ruthless, selfish blood-sucker. “I should have finished you years ago!” Darcy could have cried, driving a stake into Wickham’s heart and saving Lydia from becoming nosferatu. Instead, we get pretty much the same story we already know.
If you read 20 or 30 pages of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you’ll get all the fun out of the book there is to be had. I recommend the last 30 pages, starting with the sword fight between Lizzy and Lady Catherine. The writing is less slapdash, which makes it more entertaining. For example, here is the passage in which Lizzy explains to Darcy why he first fell in love with her:
You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. I knew the joy of standing over a vanquished foe; of painting my face and arms with their blood, yet warm, and screaming to the heavens—begging, nay, daring, God to send me more enemies to kill. The gentle ladies who so assiduously courted you knew nothing of this joy.
Also, don’t neglect to read the discussion guide. The questions are a hoot.
Although I can’t recommend reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own it. As an object, it is still extremely funny. Keep it on your book shelf. Show it to friends at parties. Or better yet, place it in the guest bathroom along with a few recent copies of The New Yorker. You’ll look witty and urbane and eclectic (although I suppose, at this juncture, slightly behind the times). Those aren’t such bad things to be.