Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

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THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 10, 2009

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

New York magazine's Sam Anderson reviews the sequel to last spring's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters... transposes the story of the dyadic Dashwood sisters—levelheaded Elinor (sense), impulsive Marianne (sensibility)—from a country cottage in Devonshire to a “tiny, wind-rattled shack” on desolate Pestilent Isle. Once again, Austen’s tidy story is embroidered with B-movie staples: giant man-eating jellyfish, sharks, lobsters, and sea serpents. Much of the fun, of course, comes from comparing it with the original. Instead of spraining her ankle running from a rainstorm, Marianne falls face-first into a brook and gets attacked by a giant octopus. (The dashing Willoughby arrives in his wetsuit and spears it.)....

Although the sea-monster subplots, considered independently, rarely rise above pulp clichés, the book’s best moments do achieve a kind of bizarro symbiosis. The monsters make Austen’s abstract threats ridiculously concrete (Elinor is nearly killed by the notorious Devonshire Fang-Beast at the same moment she learns that her love is secretly engaged to someone else), and Austen, in turn, dignifies the monsters: They serve as gargoyles emphasizing the immaculate balance of her original story’s structure.

I read S&S&SM with a copy of Austen’s novel open next to me, a tactic that made the mash-up seem simultaneously funnier and sadly diminished. The additions are often clever, and sometimes even sly in a way that’s plausibly Austenian. Reading too closely, however, also reveals the many brilliant touches that had to be left out to make room for repetitive gags about fighting otters and shrimp guts. After a while I found myself most enjoying the passages that had been changed the least. As in the old days, Austen versus the monsters turns out to be not much of a fight.

Well, so far perhaps. But wait until my drafts of Cloverfield Park and Rippersuasion hit shelves... 

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posted in: the plank, new york, sam anderson

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