Giant lobsters, terrifying swordfish, London converted into a giant dome on the bottom of the sea and a man suffering from a curse by a sea witch. All form the background of the new book by Quirk Classics in the monster mash-up genre: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. One thing’s for sure: it’s a monstrosity of a book.
After the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the publishers must have wanted to cash in on this new hype. Granted, who could blame them? The combination of Pride and Prejudice with zombies was funny. It’s not for everyone, it’s over the top and the idea of zombies certainly got a little old close to the end of the book. Still, it gave a funny twist to the story. More publishers must’ve noticed that the public seemed to like it, because currently there are books appearing everywhere that combine classic Austen with freaky super natural monsters. Quirk must’ve thought that they’d better be quick with their own follow up. That’s why, a couple of months ago, a trailer appeared for “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”.
Sadly, the book doesn’t live up to the trailer. And that’s saying a lot, because the trailer wasn’t all that great to begin with. Except, it was still funny and the book isn’t.
This is Sense and Sensibility in a world in which every animal that lives in the sea has turned against mankind and wants to eat every single human there is. Strangely, this doesn’t mean that the British all move inland and stay away from the water. The Dashwood family goes to live on a small island that is on the most dangerous coast: Devonshire. And instead of visiting London halfway through the book, they visit Submarine Station Beta, which is below sea level. Both of course, set the stage for disaster.
It’s just all a little too farfetched. To make it worse, Ben Winters thought it necessary to change most of the characters around. Margaret, instead of being a happy child turns into a member of some sect. Mr. Palmer had his own experiences with this sect, because apparently he can’t behave like he does in Sense and Sensibility for no reason other than his character and bad marriage. All the characters are less sensible in that they usually ignore the dangers or attacks of sea monsters that happen in front of their nose for reasons of decorum. The worst change was made, however, to Colonel Brandon. He was hit by a curse which changed him into a half-squid and makes him utterly unlovable from the start. I love the character of Colonel Brandon in the classic Sense and Sensibility, but was unable to feel anything but disgust in this book. Of course, mostly this was disgust for whatever Ben Winters was thinking. Readers have to struggle through pages in which Colonel Brandon has to pin his tentacles to his ears to be able to eat, is regularly covered in slime and worst of all: his tentacles are linked to that other part (or parts, apparently in his case) of his body that deal with sexual arousal. How, if ever, could you want to read a book based on Austen that features the sentence:
‘She noticed that his appendages at times seemed to stiffen a bit when he chanced to glance upon Marianne, as if excess blood were flowing into them.’
Not even the semi-critical look at colonialism helped the enjoyment of this book. If you want to voice your objections to Britain’s colonial past, why insist on giving Lady Middleton, Mrs. Palmer and her mother (in this story all forcibly abducted from a faraway island) so many characteristics that are basically ethnocentric prejudices from the colonial period?