Tolstoy set to become a science-fiction writer
The folks who gave us the literary mash-up and surprise bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies plan to “honor” the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death in June with a new version of his great novel Anna Karenina. The revamped title says all you need to know: Android Karenina.
Sigh. This news kinda just makes me tired. Sure, I’ll admit Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a zany idea well-executed, is fun. And I’m not such a fuddy-duddy that I think classic books are sacred things never to be sullied by satire.
But what seemed a stroke of irreverent genius the first time turned stale quickly, at least for me.
By the time Quirk Books trotted out Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I was over the gag already. Did anyone read it? Was it fun?
Obviously enough people bought Sea Monsters to justify a steampunk assault on Tolstoy. According to The Guardian, Android Karenina will intersperse the original text with sci-fi action to create “an enhanced edition of the classic love story set in a dystopian world of robots, cyborgs, and interstellar space travel.”
Oh, God, I can see it now: “All happy robots resemble each other, each unhappy robot is unhappy in its own way.”
The relationship of Anna and Vronksy will play out not against a realistic depiction of 19th century Russia, but in a world of robotic butlers and clanking mechanical technology that never actually existed.
Quoting Quirk: “”When these copper-plated machines begin to revolt against their human masters, our characters must fight back using state-of-the-art 19th-century technology – and a sleek new model of ultra-human cyborgs like nothing the world has ever seen.”
“We are still selling these titles well and while the trope will never rival the way Twilight has reintroduced vampires to the reading public, and brought many similar titles into the bestseller lists, it’s good fun while it lasts,” said a spokesman at Waterstone’s, Britain’s leading bookstore chain. “And Android Karenina is the funniest title yet.”
You think? Seems labored to me, like the name of an ’80s Eurotrash synth band. I suspect, though, the entire project is predicated upon the perceived cleverness (and marketing potential) of that title. Consider:
Unlike Jane Austen, Tolstoy is not a wit, but a deadly serious observer of the human condition. Plus Anna Karenina is 864 pages long — Pride and Prejudice clocks in at half that. Can Quirk’s writer, Ben Winters, keep the joke going through such a slog?
Pride and Prejudice is a romantic comedy, while Anna Karenina is the story of a doomed illicit love affair, with the rejected Anna (spoiler alert!) throwing herself under a train after Vronsky rejects her. Where are the yucks in that?
Alas, the Tolstoy mash-up isn’t the only such project in the works: Mansfield Park and Murder and Paul is Undead, a novel that introduces the Beatles to zombies, are also set to appear this year.
If any good can come of all this, aside from a few chuckles, it will be in drawing attention to the original great books. Jay Parini, an American novelist and critic told the Guardian he’s seen this happening already.
“I actually know of one young fellow who read Pride and Prejudice proper after reading the Zombie book,” Parini said. “He said to me: ‘It was funnier’.”
I’m ready to see this fad reach its inevitable hula-hoop fate. What about you?