Posts Tagged ‘Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters’

Gentle readers, Due to my pressing duties as companion to a terror terrier and my inability to keep my house clean and blog at the same time, I asked my coffee house companion, Kate, to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters. The very fact that this book is offered on a site entitled Geeks of Doom speaks volumes. Here then is Kate’s review, which slithers with pithy insights. BEWARE! Those who purchase this fishy book, and who think that it is even remotely connected to Jane Austen’s genteel Regency tale, are bound to be DISAPPOINTED. If you are a sea monster afficionado, however, or a jaded cynic, you will be delighted.

“Mrs. Dashwood grasped a spare oar from its rigging, snapped it in twain upon her knee, and plunged the sharp, broken point into the gleaming, deep-set eye of the beast.”

sense and sensibility and sea monsters 2 With my book in hand, my local Starbucks barista, most likely in his late teens, offered the following commentary: “Wow! Is that like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I hear that, you know, people who love Jane Austen like really hate these books.” And then he went back to making cappuccinos.

I am a full quarter of the way through Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and I feel that it is time to stop. I feel this strongly. During my quarter-length romp with this fascinating adaptation of the classic novel, I have laughed out loud, rolled my eyes so far into the back of my head that it hurt a little, and felt myself transported back into my seventh grade life science class, encountering a phylum of vocabulary I long since forgot.

However, once the novelty of encountering Marianne, Elinor, and Mrs. Dashwood in their new Amazonian personages wore off, so did my desire to finish the book.

This is by no means Austen, but the names are familiar, and the plot vaguely reminds me of a book I once read by Jane Austen. Occasionally, a line from the classic favorite works its way into the prose, but it is hard to continue any kind of comparison to the original when Elinor’s and Marianne’s worth as prospective wives is no longer measured in dowries or feminine accomplishments, but rather in their stamina as swimmers, in their lung capacity, and in the strength of their calves.

danger at seaInstead of arranging picnics and dinners to encourage courtship, Sir John hosts “tiki dances, crawfish fries, and bonfires,” taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of his guests, including “drawing a large quadrangle upon the beach in an admixture of squid ink and whale blood.”

In a cataclysm referred to as the Alteration (the source of which, the book explains, is unknown), the creatures of the deep turn against all land-roving mammals with untiring vengeance. This is the event around which all of Sea Monster society revolves.

A hammerhead shark ate Mr. Dashwood, leaving the widow Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters destitute and thrown into the company of Sir John, his exotic and ominously quiet wife, and the octopus-faced Colonel Brandon. Our beloved Dashwood women live in constant fear of marauding sea mammals (and crustaceans), and all the lovely sensibility of the original novel is gone.

I first found the novel wildly amusing and cleverly written, and then I found it sad, because I didn’t care about the characters whom I had loved in Sense and Sensibility. I’m genuinely happy that they can swim well and that they are strong women, capable of defending themselves from demonic sea creatures, but I miss their unconditional love for each other and their genuine struggles to find happiness in a world not at war with the sea. But most of all, I miss courtships that don’t necessitate a discussion of flipper size and writhing facial tentacles.

2009-07-15-sense_seamonstersWhile I’ve stopped reading the book for now, there are a few mysteries in the plot (for example, how an octopus ended up on Colonel Brandon’s face) that I dwell on, and they very well could induce me to pick it up again.

My barista’s comment about the reactions of devoted Austen fans may be true. But I cannot find a reason to be upset about this very liberal adaptation. In fact, this book made me appreciate the original even more. But that could be because I’m just not thirteen anymore.

Review submitted by Kate after ingesting gallons of Mr. Starbucke’s DARKE & Mysterious Caffeinated LIQUIDS.

tentaclesIncredulous reader: Our rating for this book is five out of eight tentacles. After all, Jane did write 60% of this book, which you can purchase at this link.

Not yet completely horrified? David Itzkoff at Arts Beat points out a few discussion questions suggested in the book, which leave the reader with no small impression that Mr. Winter’s enormous literaSEA effort might well be the result of his quest for the almighty dollar:

2. In “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” painful personal setbacks often occur at the same moment as sea-monster attacks, suggesting a metaphorical linkage of “monsters” with the pains of romantic disappointment; for example, Marianne is rebuffed by Willoughby at Hydra-Z precisely as the giant mutant lobsters are staging their mutiny. Have you ever been “attacked by giant lobsters,” either figuratively or literally?

5. Which would be worse: being eaten by a shark or consumed by the acidic stomach juice of a sand-shambling man-o’-war?

8. Have you ever been romantically involved with someone who turned out to be a sea witch?

10. Is Monsieur Pierre a symbol for something? Name three other well-known works of Western literature that feature orangutan valets. Are those characters also slain by pirates?

Is author Ben Winters into Sushi?

Is author Ben Winters into Sushi?

Other monsterly reviews on this blog:

The Geek Beat: More Sense and Sensibility and Less Sea Monsters

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completeworksJane Austen wrote six novels. You can almost count them on one hand. Those books, and a smattering of Juvenilia, a few uncompleted manuscripts, and a number of letters – some fragmented, most missing blocks of years – are all that we have of Jane Austen’s legacy in writing. Yet these little bits of ivory contain such a vastness of riches that one can spend a lifetime exploring them.

Not only did Jane inspire some of the best minds of her generation, but 192 years after her death her legacy still lives on, spawning imitators and sequel makers and inspiring an entire genre in literature. Her topics were circumscribed and narrow, which is the key to her timelessness. By focusing on the essential and not that which was fashionable, her writings remain fresh, relevant, and current. Jane Austen’s works are popular the world over and, observing from the number of websites, blogs, and discussion forums devoted to her on the World Wide Web, interest in her is still increasing and cuts across cultures and generations.

iheartdarcylgpride_and_prejudice_cb2(1)You haven’t truly arrived until you’ve been imitated. Like Shakepeare, Jane’s works invite hordes of copyists, with new books, movies, games, and comics based on her work and life cropping up monthly. Satirists are having as much fun with our Jane as with Shakespeare. Action figures and finger puppets abound, and famous lines are quoted with a modern twist every day. With Shakespeare it might be, “To eat, or not to eat, that is the question,” while Jane’s famous opening line morphs into, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in need of a plot must steal from Jane Austen.” We quoth our Jane evermore, but, lacking her biting wit and brilliant insights, we fall short every time.

sense and sensibility and sea monstersAnd now it seems that the Jane Austen industry has descended into monster sequel and adaptation madness, regurgitating these popular culture books at an unholy rate. The new crop of Jane Austen adaptations include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre Slayer, Pride and Predator, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. What’s next? Emma and the Loch Ness Monster? King Kong Conquers Northanger Abbey? Mr. Bingley, Werewolf?

At least Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was sensible enough to retain 80% of Jane’s words. Currently, I am barely slogging through Mr.Darcy, Vampyre. The book purports to be about Jane Austen-named characters, but their actions, speech, and motivation have nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice. Neither can Amanda Grange’s writing hold a candle to either Jane’s spare, witty style or Anne Rice’s evocative and decadent language in her masterful first novel, Interview With the Vampire. One suspects that Source Books has rushed this vanity novel out to take advantage of the Monster and Jane Craze. And now Quirk Books has announced the publication of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Have you seen the trailer? Uggh. The book has retained only 60% of Jane’s words, which means it will be even more action oriented than P&P and Zombies. While thirteen year old boys are whooping for joy in anticipation of this book, we lovers of literature are scratching our heads, knowing that its publisher and author will be happily scooping up dollars at the bank. Meanwhile a more talented and original writer, unable to get a foot through that publisher’s door, will have to work at Burger King to pay the rent.
Mr Darcy, Vampyre cover
And then there are the Jane Austen and sex sequels. Last year, a sequel had Darcy and his Elizabeth making love at least 19 times in the first half of the book. I am currently awaiting two sexy sequels with a bit of trepidation, but I will be frank with you, if these two books are merely about titillation, I won’t be giving them a kind review. There’s a popular cultural reason why the American ending of Pride and Prejudice 2005 contains this scene, which our British cousins didn’t have to see. “Nuff said.

Not for me these wannabe imitators, these pale, faceless shadows of a literary genius whose sun shines so brightly that I reread her words regularly without tiring of her. Enough, I say, of this monstrous Jane Austen sequel trend.  Fun is fun, but desecration is another thing. I know many people feel that this is an innovative way to introduce young people to Jane Austen’s splendid novels. I say, let’s stop the monster madness now and introduce Jane to new readers in a more proper way.

More on this topic

  • Making light: Incorporate Electrolyte : This blogger wrote tongue in cheek about a possible sequel entitled Mary Bennet, Vampyre Slayer way back in 2007. Her plot outline is funnier than any of the current crop of books

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