Had Jane Austen observed waterborne horrors like giant octopi and monstrous jellyfish — not to mention the Devonshire Fang-Beast — there’s no doubt she would have written prettily about them. As it is, the land-based 19th-century lady stuck to what she knew when writing Sense and Sensibility, leaving Brooklyn-based 21st-century wordsmith Ben H. Winters to provide the fish-tailed portion of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
And here we have a whale of a problem. It may be a truth universally acknowledged that a publisher in possession of a hit with the hipster mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies must be in want of a follow-up, pronto. But that doesn’t mean the great Jane’s novels can be grafted to any high-low premise, or her wry elegance improved by naughty-rude adjustments. Can it be that in the rush to turn a charming book novelty into a renewable resource, the whole Austen-and-monsters series has already jumped the shark? The second project strays much further from the original text than the first did. It’s made goofier by the intrusion of a Jules Verne-inspired plot detour during which the Dashwood sisters descend to Sub-Marine Station Beta on the ocean floor. For no real payoff, courteous Colonel Brandon is now a gentleman with squishy tentacles dangling from his face. And suave Willoughby is now accompanied by a defecating pet orangutan.
There are plenty of menaces — androids, bugs, people who text while driving — still available for book packagers to mingle with other Austen masterpieces, but I’ll second Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice when he says, ”You have delighted us long enough.” B?