Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
by Jane Austen, Ben H. Winters
First off, I have just got to say that I think Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters deserves to win Cover of the Year award. I just love it. There’s a poster of it hanging on my wall. It’s so cool. I just love the tentacle face.
Plot description of Sense and Sensibility, courtesy of Amazon.com:
In her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen presents us with the subtle portraits of two contrasting but equally compelling heroines. For sensible Elinor Dashwood and her impetuous younger sister Marianne the prospect of marrying the men they love appears remote. In a world ruled by money and self-interest, the Dashwood sisters have neither fortune nor connections. Concerned for others and for social proprieties, Elinor is ill-equipped to compete with self-centered fortune-hunters like Lucy Steele, while Marianne's unswerving belief in the truth of her own feelings makes her more dangerously susceptible to the designs of unscrupulous men. Through her heroines' parallel experiences of love, loss, and hope, Jane Austen offers a powerful analysis of the ways in which women's lives were shaped by the claustrophobic society in which they had to survive.
In the monster update, the Dashwoods are now sent to live on an island full of mysterious steam vents and aquatic horrors. Sir John is now a semi-retired adventurer who kidnapped his wife from her Islander tribe and forced into marriage; she is forever scheming of ways to escape to her homeland. Sub-Marine Station Beta, located under the sea protected by a huge dome, is the center of English society. Sea witches devour their husbands and cast curses that cause tentacles to sprout from the faces of their victims. The evil menace of angry swordfish and enraged octopi must be fought off every few pages.
While the first Quirk Classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was only about 15% new content, S&S&SM clocks in at a whopping 40% tentacle-curling action. That’s a lot less Austen, so I was a little worried that it would hurt the story. I think that having more of the story reworked made ‘sea monster’ insertions flow more organically from the text. It was less obvious exactly where Austen ended and Winters began, because the Verne-esque additions still matched the sound and style of the original story.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t find the book that entertaining. I mean, part of the problem is S&S itself. I always thought it was a novel with serious pacing issues, with too much pining and sighing for absent lovers. When they were adding in the scales and the tentacles, I don’t think enough judicious cuts were made to Austen, so even with several fights added for variety the plot still drags. The end, too, seems hastily cobbled together and gets rather messy as pirates and Lovecraft references compete for attention.
The critique of Britain’s colonialism through the characters of Lady Middleton, Mrs. Palmer and her mother – all of them Pacific Islanders forcibly removed from their homes and brought to England as the wives of their captors – was a little too cheeky for my tastes, but it was an interesting idea to bring to the story. In fact, I think that would be my summarizing statement: there were a lot of interesting ideas brought into Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. You will probably get a laugh or two out of the book, but overall the story lacks unity and development. It lacked the freshness of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but whether this is due to rushed production, a weaker Austen source, too many attempts to touch on undersea mythos or a combination of the above is something I just can’t decide.