7 Retellings of the Classics

Claire Handscombe

When classics feel a little intimidating, a good way in can be retellings. There are a lot of great ones around these days, and they introduce diversity into the often very white, very heterosexual world of Western fairylates, Greek myth, Jane Austen novels, or Shakespearean plays. Circe and Song of Achilles are two bestsellers, but here are a few more that have come out in recent years.

The Awkward Age, by Francesca Segal

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This isn’t Segal’s first foray into re-writing a classic and resetting it in a modern world. She won the Costa First Novel Award with The Innocents in 2012. Emma Straub and Lauren Groff have both praised The Awkward Age highly, which would have had me reaching for the pre-order button if I weren’t convinced already.

Country, by Michael Hughes

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It’s 1996, and negotiations between the IRA and the British to end decades of violence are bearing fruit. But not everybody is happy about it: if it’s all to end in handshakes and smiles, what was the point of all that fighting? This “vivid and brutal” novel sets the Northern Irish story as a retelling of the Iliad.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

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This was a fun contemporary rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. Yes, it was over the top at times — but so is the original. Yes, Kitty and Lydia were ridiculous: that’s half the fun of Austen’s novel. Curtis Sittenfeld stayed true to the character’s essences and I particularly enjoyed the 21st century Mr and Mrs Bennett. Also, short chapters helped this to fly by. And the gorgeous Book of the Month hardback made the experience even more pleasurable.

The Innocents, by Francesca Segal

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“Any Jewish holiday can be described in the same way. They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” That quote from this book made me smile, and is a great snapshot of the witty and insightful take on a Wharton classic, set in the Jewish community of North London.

Of Curses and Kisses, by Sandhya Menon

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Sandhya Menon's debut YA novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, was a beloved besteller that got a lot of buz the year it came out. She's back with a new duology inspired by Beauty and the Beast and set at an elite boarding school. One for fans of enemies-to-lover romance.

The Porpoise, by Mark Haddon

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Mark Haddon is best known for his beloved novel of the early 2000s, The Curious Incident of the DOg in the Night Time. His latest book also has an animal-themed title, although the eponymous porpoise is actually a ship, aboard which one of the characters escapes to get away from a would-be assassin. The Porpoise is a rewriting of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which tells the story of a prince who, long after he thought his wife was dead, returns home to find her alive. “Haddon’s prose is beautiful,” says the Evening Standard, “and he is utterly in command of his slippery material.”

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, by Sonali Dev

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Never trust an outsider; never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations; and never, ever, defy your family: Trisha has broken all three rules and now seeks to redeem herself in this Indian American retelling of the Jane Austen classic. Sonali Dev has since written more Jane Austen retellings in Recipe for Persuasian and Incense and Sensibility, which just came out this month.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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