Now, this is curious. In general, I’m not the biggest fan of comedy novels. I love Adams and Pratchett in small doses, but even the masters can get a bit much for me. But I’m doing my second consecutive review of a comic fantasy (or should that be fantastic comedy?) novel which I absolutely loved.
I’d been looking forward to reading Jonathan Pinnock’s Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens (especially having a signed copy complete with an elaborate tentacle) and I wasn’t disappointed. As the title suggests, it’s a science fiction sequel to Pride & Prejudice, and it probably works best if you know something of the original – I do, although I’m not particularly a Jane Austen reader – but I think it would work too even for a reader who doesn’t. The humour takes in a wide range of targets, literary and contemporary, as well as references to the better-known adaptations of the book. Elizabeth’s favourite horse is called Keira, while there’s a reference (of course) to Darcy and a wet shirt.
Essentially, Regency Britain is threatened by tentacle-covered aliens – there’s no obvious reasons for the tentacles, but they’re aliens, after all – and the focus of their schemes appears to be Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennett. Her sister Lydia has vanished; her husband is acting strangely; the odious clergyman Mr Collins is running a mission in London for fallen women who are never seen again.
Elizabeth’s only ally is Wickham, the villain of Pride & Prejudice, whose caddishness is revealed as a cover for his role as a kind of Regency James Bond, complete with a delightful arsenal of steampunk gadgets. Together, they have to face not only the aliens, but zombie wannabes in Bath (a sly dig at another Pride & Prejudice parody), shockingly unconventional artist-types in the quiet village of Glastonbury, assorted ghosts and, most fearsome of all, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
In the spirit of the original, this is all punctuated by increasingly desperate letters from Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, who, with her husband Bingley, seems to be falling for every con ever conceived by the human mind. Some might sound rather familiar.
I won’t spoil the jokes by quoting anything, but suffice it to say that numerous times I laughed loud enough to be glad I was on my own. (Hint – perhaps the loudest was about Mr and Mrs Hurst and their son.) The scenes where the aliens are speaking to one another are hilarious.
The odd quibble might be made about the sense of one or two elements, such as tying in Jack the Ripper (if the victims were all from the Regency period, how were their names known in the 1880s?) but it’s really not the kind of book where such quibbles matter. Just go with it and enjoy the laughs.
All I can say is Ek-ek-ek-ek, which means “very highly recommended” – or possibly something about meerkats.