Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pride & Platypus by Vera Nazarian

I'm not usually a fan of supernatural takes on Austen's work, but the novels of Vera Nazarian are far too funny to miss. Having read and reviewed her previous two, Mansfield Park & Mummies and Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons, I kind of new what I was in for with Pride & Platypus, but the first two paragraphs still stuck me as uproariously hysterical:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its curse.

It is a peculiar monthly Affliction inducing them to take on various unnatural shapes - neither quite demon, nor proper beast - and in those shapes to roam the land; to hunt, murder, dismember, gorge on blood, consume haggis and kidney pie, gamble away familial fortune, marry below their station (and below their stature, when the lady is an Amazon), vote Whig, perform sudden and voluntary manual labor, cultivate orchids, collect butterflies and Limoges snuff boxes, and perpetuate other such odious evil - unless properly contained.
Maintaining the absurdity of her previous works, Ms. Nazarian takes us on a journey through a very different Regency England, one filled with cages and in which status is determined by the nature of a gentleman's beast. Mr. Bennet spends his moonlit nights as a lazy lion, while Mr. Bingley is a noble (and frisky) tiger, Mr. Wickham a sneaky wolf, and Mr. Collins an odoriferous skunk (the nature of his ailment requires a particularly large cage, keeping its minders out of firing range, but Mr. Collins remains under the illusion that he is actually a beast of grandiose proportions). Each beast suits the character's personality, except Mr. Darcy. The proud man must undergo the humiliating prospect, for three nights each month, of dwindling into an awkward platypus.

The irony of one of the sexiest heroes in all of English literature taking on the form of a platypus is hysterical in and of itself, and I entered into the book anxiously expecting that this transformation would pretty much undermine his attractiveness. I was wrong. First of all, Mr. Darcy is the perfect platypus. The humiliating nature of his beast explains his extreme hauteur, his intense gaze at Elizabeth suits the creature, and his altered form is even still kind of sexy (have I shocked anyone?), if in a kind of pathetic, cutesy way:
The moon illuminated the chamber as the thing swam about the tub, paddling with its front webbed paws, in absolute dreamy silence, punctuated by occasional sneezes and gentle snorts. While elsewhere, hellish tigrine roars continued to rip the night, interspersed with occasional doggish yelps, barks, and howls from another direction, the strange aquatic creature finally climbed out of the tub. It moved, waddling like a peculiar mammalian lizard and retracting its webbed hands to reveal otter claws underneath in the front appendages and sharp heel spurs in its hi8nd legs, not to mention a long beaver tail in the back.
It helps to mention that the nature of Mr. Darcy's affliction explains the frequency with which he appears in a soaking wet shirt in this book. Ms. Nazarian is remarkably clever.

I must say something about the footnotes, having rather vociferously complained about them in my review of Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons. They are still ever present in this book, though they are less concerned with sexual innuendo than previously. Instead, Ms. Nazarian present dueling editors, one making outrageous claims while the other scoffs. I found this extremely amusing for the first fifty pages or so, but then it got to be a bit ridiculous. By then end, I found I couldn't be bothered distracting myself from the story with their perusal. I must also just mention my confusion regarding Ms. Nazarian use of italics, which are ratyher pervasive and usually nonsensical.

Like Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons, this book doesn't work quite as well as Mansfield Park & Mummies (which really is a triumph), but it is still a lot of fun. There are parts of the plot that are kind of weak (particularly in regards to Georgiana Darcy), but who am I to criticize a plot turn as unbelievable when the premise is Mr. Darcy turning into a platypus? Pretty much anything goes after that. These novels are great fun, and I will certainly read and review the remaining books in the series as they come out.

This review is my fifth for the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, hosted by Austenprose. Here is a list with links to my previous posts:

Mr. Darcy's Little Sister vs. And This Our Life by C. Allyn Pierson

An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by Regina Jeffers

The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell

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