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.”
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.
Instead 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.
While 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.
Incredulous 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?
Other monsterly reviews on this blog:
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Review of a High Concept Parody
- Jane Austen’s Legacy: Precious Bits of Ivory Turned into Monsters
- Review of Mr. Darcy Vampyre, Part One
- Review of Mr. Darcy Vampyre, Part Two
- Review of Mr. Darcy Vampyre, Part Three
The Geek Beat: More Sense and Sensibility and Less Sea Monsters