After my amazing luck with John Boyne’s The Absolutist last year, I decided to always keep an eye on Other Press releases and I’m glad I did. I requested a copy of this book directly from the publisher and I quite enjoyed it. This is my honest response and I received nothing in return.
To start, I’d like to say that the only other review on Goodreads is worthless (to me, at least). Why bother reviewing a book if that’s all you’re going to say? The person has, in essence, re-written the synopsis of the novel (on the back cover), without any additional insight or synthesis and it came across as snide to me. If you didn’t want to read “frothy froth about rich French people and their angst,” then why’d you read it? It never pretended to be anything else and that’s why I appreciated this novel. It’s times like this when I wish I could give half stars on Goodreads because it’s not quite what I would consider 5 stars, but not quite as low as 4 stars. Now on to my response.
This novel is everything that it claims to be, an amusing inside look at the codes, manners, and morals of high society, and it’s nothing more.So if you don’t want to read a comedy of manners, then don’t. It’s sort of what I imagine Austen’s works were like when they were first published and reactions were similar to the Goodreads reviewer’s.
This Quirk Classic was MUCH better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m not sure whether it’s because this is their second ‘Mash Up’ (as Quirk calls it) and they were able to get some feedback after the first one, or if Ben Winters is that much better of an author than Seth Grahame-Smith.
There was a stronger maturity about this novel compared to Zombies. Although there were a few nods to impropriety in Sea Monsters as Austen herself vaguely alluded to in the original Sense and Sensibility, they were nowhere near as onerous or obtrusive as they were in Zombies. But what solidifies Sea Monsters as a better novel, is Winters removing it far enough from Austen, to create a cohesive (and believable) fantasy. There were no obviously disparate elements in this novel which stood out as much as the seemingly random zombies/Orient mash-up in the previous Quirk Classic .
Winter created a story which could stand on its own. There’s no need to have read Sense and Sensibility as most of the sea monster/nautical elements can stand on their own. I’m excited for the second ‘Mash Up’ Winter created, Android Karenina. Some one recently recommended Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter but I’m a bit wary as Seth Grahame-Smith, author of zombies wrote it.
If I were to write a novel, I assume it would be something like this one, somewhat scatter-brained, somewhat genius and somewhat ludicrous.
I enjoyed the author’s conversational tone, but sometimes the informality of it when she trailed off into the could haves and would haves fell into a long trailing run on lists which are evenly entertaining and annoying. (Entertaining because we all know we do it, and me more so than others, and annoying because after the first few times it seemed wanton and trite.)
We follow the unnamed narrator from her pursuit of a PhD at Cambridge University to the depths of unemployment in New York City with the one constant being her love/lust/infatuation of Eugene, a professor of Ego studies. It goes without saying that the love/lust/infatuation is perceptibly unrequited as Eugene not only marries another woman and has a child by her, but carries on numerous other affairs over their ten-year relationship/fling.
This was a so-so read. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I remember when it first hit the shelves and everyone obsessed over it. I sort of put it in the back of my mind as a to-read book, but never thought I would as I love Austen’s novels on their own and really didn’t know what to expect with the introduction of Sci-Fi/Horror elements.
Overall this probably would’ve been a better novel if Grahame-Smith were a better writer, or a writer with better mimicry skills. The added parts stood out like sore thumbs (aside from the zombie material) and got very old very fast. It wasn’t just the zombie introduction that tried my patience with the novel, but the introduction of the Orient, from warrior training, to dojo and ninjas, it took a potentially brilliant idea and completely mangled it. Rather than just introducing the zombies and working with the time period and culture, he brought in a completely different culture and mutated the novel from a satirical social commentary to a rather ho-hum humorous horror novel. I also didn’t appreciate the crude humor, Grahame-Smith took the hinted impropriety a step to far, but I guess that’s what’s supposed to make it a comical novel rather than just a horror novel.