21 January 2010

We're Gonna Dive into the Emptiness, We'll Be Swimming... When the World Ends

#7 - Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Okay, first an admission of guilt. Despite my adoration for movies based on Jane Austen novels (Sense and Sensibility and both versions of Pride and Prejudice rank high on my top movies list), I have never completed a Jane Austen novel. My one attempt to read P and P was a failure, even though I was on a vacation without internet, television, AND it was too hot to go outside. I can appreciate Miss Austen's wit and humor within a movie, but it hasn't worked for me in book form.

But then Quirk Classics threw zombies and sea monsters into the mix and they were praised for it. So I said, "Okay, the books are on my list, I'll give it another go at some point," and forgot about them. And then I received both novels as a Christmas present and figured that I might as well read them since they were in my possession.

That said, I'm comparing Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters with what I know from Sense and Sensibility, the movie. Bad Jen, I know. My apologies to all the Austen diehards.

SSSM is what I'm calling it because I'm far too lazy to type the whole damn title out every time. SSSM takes the original Austen novel and basically throws sea monsters into the mix. At some point, something called the Alteration occurred, where sea monsters suddenly appeared and began terrorizing the people. The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are simply looking for love amidst the existence of sea monsters and how they have changed the world. I wish more time was spent on the Alteration, when it happened, what happened to the people when sea creatures became monsters, but since it's merely Sense and Sensibility PLUS sea monsters, there's no room for that to happen. The sea monsters are supposed to serve as background music to the Dashwood sisters' story.

For most the novel, the sea monster aspect has minimal impact. It affects the characters' lives, of course, but it was more to say, "Oh look, there's sea monsters!" without really changing the course of the story.

Despite this, I still found the sea monsters to be distracting to the overall story. I appreciate Austen for her ability to tell a love story, and I felt as though that got pushed aside a lot in SSSM. I'm familiar with Sense and Sensibility so I know how the story ends, but I found myself trying to guess how sea monsters would be integrated into the plot. Without spoiling SSSM I can say that Mr. Dashwood dies at the mouth of a shark, and not whatever illness he would have had in 19th century England. Instead of everyone enjoying a picnic outside and that's it, they enjoy the picnic and then some gets eaten by a hugeass jellyfish. Entertaining, but kind of unnecessary.

People die often due to the sea monsters and it's considered normal, a part of the food chain kind of deal, and that irked me. I wouldn't care how normal it was, if I were to see a women devoured by a hugeass jellyfish so that only her bones remained, I would be fucking scarred for life. Not only would I stay away from the ocean, but I probably would never bathe in water again in fear that a jellyfish would come out of the faucet.

Until the sisters go down to Sub-Station Beta (SSSM's bougie underwater kingdom that replaces London), I found that the only significant impact of the sea monster theme could be found in Colonel Brandon, Marianne's fervent admirer. Instead of just being far older than Marianne and far less appealing than Willoughby, he's got tentacles on his face. Squishy gooey tentacles. Poor man. But it helped in amplifying how undesirable he was to Marianne. Despite his polite and sensitive demeanor, a woman would still have to deal with his squishy tentacles. Call me shallow, but no thanks.

Despite my critique of adding in the sea monster theme, I still enjoyed the read. Winters added an extra amount of wit with the sea monsters. Something about Colonel Brandon's tentacle curse not only affecting his face made me giggle. I think that the alterations to the characters worked well. Mrs. Jennings and her daughters as island natives was successful, as was Mr. Palmer's surly demeanor due to his experiences out at sea. I didn't really care for Margaret's story line, because I didn't care for her in the original either. Her plot line just freaked me the hell out. The sea monsters worked best when their existence wasn't glaringly superfluous to the novel. Was Margaret and the Leviathan pertinent to the story? I'm not sure. I could have done without it.

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