Thursday, January 28, 2010

sensationless and barely sensible

A few months ago I read and favorably reviewed the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What I particularly enjoyed was the co-author's deft interweaving of the zombie scenario into Jane Austen's original story. The result was an entertaining enlivenment of a classic Austen tale.

Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters is the complete opposite. I will admit that I do not have Sense and Sensibility memorized to the same extent as Pride and Prejudice, but even still, I had a hard time finding the original story line, to say nothing of any of the original text. Ben H. Winters buries Jane Austen's tale of the Dashwood sisters under a plot as heavy and unrelenting as the evil ocean he places it within.

S, S & S takes place in a world where the ocean and its creatures have turned against man, causing all sea travel to be fraught with the dangers of giant octopuses, organized parties of man-skewering swordfish, and the like. Despite this, Winters sends the Dashwoods to live on an island in the the most dangerous waters off of England's shores and recreates the high society of London in a doomed dome on the ocean floor. As if these disasters weren't enough, he plagues the sisters with the curse of a seawitch and a primordial Leviathan.

Perhaps I could have withstood the over-the-top wicked sea theme, if it weren't for the way Winters handled the integration of Jane Austen's characters into his world. The inevitable attacks and deaths to dreadful sea creatures are treated as a triviality next to the Dashwoods' incredibly important problems with love. Giant lobsters chopping people in half? Marianne doesn't notice because Willoughby won't talk to her. Hundreds of swordfish breaking tiny holes in the underwater dome? Eleanor can't seem to keep it in her mind when Edward is around. Margaret shaving her body, filing her teeth to points, and chanting some weird language? Mrs. Dashwood is too busy writing letters to her crossed-in-love older daughters to pay any attention.

Winters destroys all of Austen's explorations into the subtle play of emotions of the Dashwood sisters and their varying reactions to love. He makes them out to be self-absorbed, fickle, and narrow. He even creates supporting characters to enhance this reflection, for example, a Pirates of the Caribbean Davy Jones-esque Colonel Brandon who provokes puking on sight. Winters places the Dashwoods in situations they can only look bad.

I do not recommend this book for anyone, Jane Austen fans or sea monster fans. It is clunky and ridiculous. I barely made it through, and that's just because I was sitting in an airplane with nothing else to do.

No comments: