Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

...Willoughby executed a mocking gesture with his hands, holding the flat of his palm below his nose and wiggling his fingers in comical imitation of Brandon's deformity.

Elinor rolled her eyes.  "Why should you dislike him so?"

"I do not dislike him.  I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has everybody's good word, and nobody's notice; who has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year.  Who, though he may have a thinking mind, has also a fish's face, and should perhaps be more comfortable out of his gentleman's coats and submerged in the tank in my parlour."  (from Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, page 56)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is Ben H. Winters' take on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, with an "Alteration" turning all of the sea creatures in the waters near England into, well, monsters.  The book opens with the death of the Dashwood patriarch, who while lying on a beach and torn apart by a hammerhead shark scrawls a plea to his son in the sand, asking that he take care of his current wife and their three daughters, Elinore, Marianne, and Margaret.  When the young Mr. Dashwood's wife convinces him that his plans for his stepmother and half-sisters are too generous, the women, essentially penniless, brave the waters and travel to the Devonshire coast to settle on Pestilent Isle.  A relative of Mrs. Dashwood, Sir John Middleton, provides the women with a cottage, and they constantly travel to his house on Deadwind Island to visit with him and Lady Middleton -- a woman who was taken against her will from her homeland by Sir John as the adventurer and his men ravaged the area.  As in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne falls for Willoughby, Elinor falls for Edward Ferrars, and Colonel Brandon has a thing for Marianne -- and their plans for happiness don't work out they way they wish.  Unlike the Austen novel, however, Colonel Brandon is part man and part octopus -- and there are plenty of references to face rot, moving tentacles, and sliminess.

I really wanted to like this one, but I didn't make it past page 141.  The book was interesting and amusing in the beginning, and the characters of Lady Middleton and Sir John were hilarious, but after awhile, it started to bore me.  While sea monsters are an interesting touch, they weren't well integrated with Austen's story and characters, or at least not well enough in the first half of the book to keep my attention.  While zombies were well integrated into Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, with the Bennets and several other main characters trained as zombie slayers, the sea monsters in Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters make an appearance here and there, are killed or fought off, and then the characters go back to their routines.

There are a few references to the Alteration, a sub-marine station, Elinor's visions of a symbol that she eventually sees tattooed on Lucy Steele, and Margaret's fascination with steam coming out of a mountain on the island and her insistence that strange, chanting people are out there somewhere, but I just couldn't get myself to keep reading to find out what happens.  After 141 pages, the sea monsters were no longer interesting, and while Winters injects witty dialogue about the sea monsters, it just wasn't enough. I think my biggest issue with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is that Winters takes Jane Austen's writing and adds a bit of his own here and there.  I think if Winters had completely re-written the story in his own words, I would have found it unique, and the story would have flowed better.  If I'd wanted to read Austen's writing, I would have picked up Sense and Sensibility for a re-read.  I was expecting the sea monsters to be a bigger, more clever part of the story, and while it is possible that they do take center stage later on in the book, the pacing in the first half was a bit off and prevented me from continuing.  I wanted to know more about the Alteration, the symbol, and the chanting; I wanted more than a few mentions here and there before moving to more tedious scenes.

It's been many years since I read the Austen novel, so I was approaching Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as someone who didn't remember the details of the original story, and maybe that affected my feelings about the book.  Also, in terms of supernatural creatures, sea monsters aren't the most interesting to me, and I was looking for something really exciting to hold my attention.  However, I do applaud Winters for taking a chance, as adding sea monsters to a Jane Austen novel is bound to generate strong feelings among readers. Although Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters didn't work for me, I encourage those of you interested in these mashups to give it a try, as I've seen a lot of favorable reviews.  And I might even give it another go myself after I re-read Sense and Sensibility later this year for the Jane Austen Challenge.

Stay tuned for an entertaining guest post from Ben H. Winters, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from FSB Associates for review purposes.


Serena said...

I haven't finished this one yet, but I'm also not very far in it. Thanks for the honest review.

J.S. Peyton said...

LOL! I think this is so funny because you and I had completely opposite reactions to P&P&Z and S&S&SM. I thought the zombies in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" weren't integrated very well into the storyline at all, and that "Sense and Sense and Sensibility" was an improvement in that respect. When you wrote that the sea monsters just randomly appeared in the story here or there, that's the exact same thing I said about the zombies in P&P&Z. Lol. I love it that our reading community is so diverse. =D

Sorry to hear this one didn't work for you, but here's hoping your next book is better!

bermudaonion said...

I don't think this one would be for me either.

Unknown said...

I am not very familiar with Austen's writing in general. I have just recently finished Emma, but don't really like it all that much and I read Pride and Prejudice in college and it didn't appeal to me at all. This is mainly the reason why I've been avoiding both Zombies and Sea Monsters books. Add to this your review and I think that I will just forget about them for a long time or at least until I have a chance to get reacquainted with Austen's writing first.

Anonymous said...

I'm not very interested in this one and your review makes me think I'm right :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I still have not read any of these. I'm on the fence. I've not even read all of the Austen originals yet!

Suko said...

Thanks for you honest review, Anna. To be honest, I never had much interest in Sea Monsters or Zombies (although I hosted a giveaway for Zombies, and enjoyed the opening paragraphs). I did thoroughly enjoy Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which I think is very clever.

I look forward to your guest post with Ben Winters.

Unknown said...

I think the concept is unique. I haven't read this one, but I can see where it would get tiring, though.

Stephanie said...

It sounds like there is some interesting and funny stuff here -- maybe not enough to fill an entire novel. :-)

So far I have avoided all the Jane Austen spin-offs -- I really liked the originals. :-)

Staci said...

Didn't make it past 141???? Oh no!!! I have this one to read...thanks for your honesty because I won't be rushing to read it anytime soon!

Blodeuedd said...

Too bad it did not work out for you :(
Still if I see it around I will give this weird book a chance

Helen said...

I haven't read either of the Zombies or Sea Monsters books yet and I don't really think they would appeal to me. I want to re-read the original Austen books though, as it's been a long time since I read them.

By the way, I've got an award for you. :)

Jules said...

I haven't read either of the parody's of Austen's work, but I plan on reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies soon. I'm a little reluctant for this one though. First I need to read the original and second, I saw a book trailer for it and was, well put off by it. And your review is making be even less inclined to read it. Thanks for the review.

Darlene said...

Sorry you didn't like this one more Anna. I had a chance to read it but it didn't sound like something I'd really like.

Ana S. said...

I'm so unsure about these books! On the one hand, I love a bit of silliness. But on the other hand, I worry that yeah, it might be too much :P Thanks for your review! I'll keep what you said about the pacing etc. in mind.

Melody said...

I haven't read S&S, but I look forward to reading it. However I'm not really keen of reading this (as well as P&P&Z) as I feel... weird of having the monsters linked with Jane Austen's works. ;P

Marie Cloutier said...

Yeah. these books don't really appeal to me. i mean, they look like fun and sometimes i'm tempted but Jane Austen's novels are so perfect the way she wrote them- all this other junk just seems like window dressing designed to sell us books we already have!

Kristen said...

I have heard other people say that this one didn't work for them either. It (or the Zombies book or books that insert vampires in classics, etc.) aren't really my cup of tea but it's always interesting to see what others are thinking of them.

DCMetroreader said...

I have this in my TBR pile and I admit that I'm not exactly dying to read it.

Laura Hartness said...

I enjoy Jane Austen prequels/sequels, but I have no interest in reading the monster mashups. I guess I just don't get it. Thanks for your fair review!

Laura Hartness
The Calico Critic

The Bookworm said...

I wondered about this one.
sorry to hear you didnt finish it.
Thanks for the honest review.

Mari said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy it. I had the same feelings to this book as did J.S.Peyton. I thought the sea monsters and Winters storyline was much better integrated here than the zombies in P&P.

Anna said...

~Serena: I'm looking forward to your thoughts. You liked P&P&Z more than I did, so I'm curious if that'll be the same with this one.

~J.S. Peyton: LOL is right! Maybe the sea monsters were better integrated in the second half of the story. I kept waiting and waiting and by page 141, I just couldn't wait any longer.

~bermudaonion: Yeah, I don't think you'd like this one.

~lilly: If I had to choose between reading the monster mashups or re-reading Jane Austen, I'd choose the latter for sure.

~stacybuckeye: If you're unsure about them in the first place, then I probably wouldn't read them.

~Sandy: I'd read more Austen first! I'm thinking about trying this one again after I re-read S&S to see if having Austen's novel fresh in my mind makes a difference. We'll see.

~Suko: I'm going to have to dig out my copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen addict. I've heard good things about it.

~Janel: It's like it was funny for the first 20 pages or so, and then it just got old. Maybe I just am not as interested in sea monsters as I need to be in order to really think this one is awesome. Who knows?

~Stephanie: I've read a lot of the Austen sequels and I've enjoyed most but not all. I will say that the monster mashups are unique and fun, at least to a point.

~Staci: I've seen some favorable reviews of the book, so please don't let my inability to finish it prevent you from giving it a try!

~Blodeuedd: I hope you give it a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts. You might like it a lot more than I did.

~Helen: I'm finishing up the few Austen novels I've never read and re-reading a couple of the others this year. And thanks for the award. That's very kind of you!

~Jules: I'd say at the very least read S&S first. At least you'd know what to expect and can pick out the differences (well, those differences aside from the sea monsters).

~Dar: I respect what Winters was trying to do, and I did enjoy it a lot in the very beginning. It just got a little tedious. If you're first thought is that you're not going to enjoy it, you probably wouldn't.

~Nymeth: I think if the sea monster action and the new storylines were more prominent, it would've held my interest more. That's one of the downsides of using Austen's words and inserting stuff here and there. I hope you at least give them a try at some point.

~Melody: It's a big odd, but fun. I think if you're dead set against messing with the classics, you won't like it.

~Marie: I agree that Austen's novels are fine the way they are. Still, these Austen sequels, etc., are my guilty pleasures!

~Kristen: After enjoying P&P&Z for the fun factor but not thinking it's a great book, and then not being able finish this one, I'm not sure whether I'll give the future mashups a try.

~DCMetroreader: I'm looking forward to your thoughts when you get to it.

~Laura: Well, they're funny at times, but I think the more true-to-Austen sequels, etc., are more my style.

~naida: Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts!

~Mari: The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I liked P&P&Z more because I liked P&P more than S&S. Who knows? I'm not sorry I gave it a try, though, and like I said, I might give it another go later on.