Author Ben H. Winters has followed up “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, his April 2009 reworking of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, with “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”, a regency romp with the inhabitants of the deep.
Much as the title would lead the reader to believe, the novel is filled with fishy fiends that plague heroines Elinor and Marianne Dashwood as they deal with the complicated romances of the standard Austen novel.
Warnings of monsters waiting in the deep to eat up the occasional ship are associated with swashbuckler films as the beasts of the sea attack and the characters fight for their lives. Having an Austen novel harbor the same monsters is unexpected, but what is more unexpected is for the monster references to enhance the plot.
Although the creatures and gore are obviously placed to coincide with the characters emotional conflicts, Winters has retained most of the original text and does not lose the central plot line of “Sense and Sensibility”. The two books can be held side by side and found to be nearly identical for large portions, albeit there is most likely a fish reference somewhere. This similarity can be disappointing for the reader who expects the novel to be completely refreshed with new narration. Winters keeps most of Austen’s original wording and because of it the book can still be as confusing as ever when it comes to keeping characters and plotlines straight.
Austen purists beware, though the wording is much the same as it is in Austen’s original novel, several elements have been changed. Instead of keeping things familiar, Winters makes the characters play out the drama in a world where man and monster are constantly at war. Familiar characters, like the now tentacle-clad Colonel Brandon, are products of the world where the sea isn’t friendly at all, and Brandon is not the only character to be repainted in the seafaring light.
Winters adds his own spark of mystery to the “Sense of Sensibility” fire. After the Dashwood women move to Barton Cottage, a small shack on a bit of land called The Pestilent Isle, Elinor Dashwood is visited by the vision of a five-pointed symbol. The symbol again reappears in the form of a tattoo on the back of Lucy Steele, Elinor’s rival in the pursuit of love. The mystery and importance of the vision is drawn out over the course of the book.
The reason that man and fish fight is another mystery Winters pens, but it’s one that is never fully explained. The war between man and fish is put down to “the Alteration,” a vaguely explained conflict that may have something to do with the old sea gods. The mysterious “Alteration” seems to be Winters’ excuse to add giant lobsters, angry fang beasts and even an underwater city to Austen’s original novel.
Elements of Winters’ novel do seem to take their cues from recent popular culture. Brandon, who has a secret crush on Marianne Dashwood, is afflicted by a massive growth of octopus-like tentacles on his face. His affliction is the product of a run-in with an angry sea witch who saw fit to curse him for life. Winters seems to be alluding to plot lines similar to those in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”. The underwater city that replaces London in the novel echoes the fascination historians have always had for the lost city of Atlantis.
For those who have never been fans of the Austen novel or have found them hard to read, Winters may have provided the solution. There are just enough monsters, mayhem and mystery for the reader to keep reading until the end. Even if the reader starts to get bored, sure enough there’s a monster attack right around the corner in this fishy rewrite to keep them reading.
See the book trailer for “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” here.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ana Faria at Ana.Faria@colorado.edu.