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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters    by Jane Austen & Ben H. Winters order for
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
by Jane Austen
Order:  USA  Can
Quirk, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Jane Austen wrote six novels during her short life (1775-1817). A writer who published her books under the pseudonym, A Lady, she wrote about the people and places with which she was familiar, in other words gentlemen and women of modest means who lived in rural England. Her main characters were always women, and for the most part, their only options for financial security were marriage or inheritance. The women who worked were servants, governesses, and ladies of ill repute, and there just weren't any other ways for women to support themselves. Austen is listed as a co-author of this book, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Were she still alive, she would be shocked and horrified at what Ben H. Winters has done to her novel.

The two main characters of Sense and Sensibility are Elinor and Marianne. They are both intelligent girls, nineteen and sixteen years old. Elinor, the elder, thinks everything through a little more than is necessary, burying her feelings in an effort to spare others. Marianne, on the other hand, never keeps any of her feelings to herself, and never thinks things through appropriately. During the original novel, they both learn to change a little in the other direction and become happily whole by the end of the book, where all their problems are resolved. Winters has changed Austen's world, and our reality, by adding an unexplained past event which turned all sea creatures into monsters intent on killing humans.

There is an underwater city that stands in for London as the center of English civilization, and the description of this city, deep below sea level, ended all possibility of my finding any enjoyment in the book. I can't imagine that any Austen fans would find Sea Monsters funny, enjoyable, or even terribly interesting, because the city below the sea is so impossible. Railroads weren't even invented yet, and the technology to enable people to build something - or even to go so far under the sea to build something - had not yet been developed. Why not stick with London, which is easily accessible from ships?

I really tried to find at least a little humor in the book, and there is some. Now and then I chuckled. There were scenes in which almost certain death would have occurred to one or more of the characters had not someone reacted quickly, and an early one of these has the girls' mother breaking an oar over her knee and stabbing a monster to death. The thought of these proper ladies defending themselves from horrible water-based aberrations the way they do over and over in this story is funny at times. The original plot was sort of followed, although the house that the family moved to was much shabbier than the one in the original story, but things go off in such wild directions after the move to this house, that shabbiness barely matters. A significant change has the youngest sister, Margaret, who barely appears in the original novel, becoming almost as much of a major character as her older sisters. If Elinor represents sense and Marianne sensibility, Margaret here becomes the sea monster.

I love Jane Austen novels! I've read all of them more than once and enjoyed them every time. Curiosity got the better of me, though, and I admit that I wanted to find out why adding zombies or sea monsters to her books put them on the bestseller lists. I still don't understand the phenomenon, and I don't think there's anything wrong with my sense of humor. You are forewarned, though, that loving Austen might inhibit your ability to enjoy Sea Monsters. My hope is that for those readers who have never enjoyed or even finished a novel by Jane Austen, making it through this one might increase their curiosity as to why Austen's novels have been far more significant than their author ever dreamed of their becoming, and lead them to read the originals.

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