Whether they retell a story or explore the life of a supporting character, many excellent modern novels are based on literary classics. They also make great book group discussion. Here are some of our favourites.
Pride and Prejudice has inspired many other works, including Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Fiona Palmer’s rural romance Matters of the Heart and even the slightly more speculative Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but we can’t go past this book group favourite. After their father’s heart surgery, Liz and Jane Bennet return home to Cincinnati, where their younger sisters run wild and their mother despairs that they will ever marry. Things change when ER doctor and reality television ‘star’ Chip Bingley arrives – but his friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, is unimpressed by the Bennets. A stylish exploration of classic modern romance.
Did you ever wonder what happened to the absent father in Little Women? Acclaimed author Brooks explores the life of March as he enlists with the Union troops during the first year of the American Civil War. An anti-slavery idealist, his beliefs are challenged by the horrors of war as he struggles to find his way back to his family. You don’t need to be familiar with Alcott’s novel to enjoy this thought-provoking book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
This novel explores the untold side of Jane Eyre – the life of Mr Rochester’s first wife Bertha, or Antoinette as she is originally named in Rhys’ interpretation. Dominican-born Jean Rhys sympathetically re-imagines the Jamaican life of a young Creole heiress and Rochester’s courtship and the early years of their marriage, which turns many of Brontë’s values and assumptions inside out. A multi-layered novel to explore and discuss.
This modern retelling of Greek tragedy Antigone is a brilliantly told story of politics, sacrifice, and what it means to be Muslim in the West. Isma is the responsible sister who leaves her two younger siblings to study in America, while Aneeka is the beautiful and headstrong sister who worries about the fate of her naive twin brother Parvaiz, recruited by ISIS. When Eamonn, the son of an influential British Muslim politician enters the lives of the two sisters, love and family loyalties collide and the two families’ fates are devastatingly entwined. Shamsie tackles difficult but important themes in this extraordinary novel, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Cunningham takes Virginia Woolf’s life and work as inspiration for his intriguing story set across multiple timelines. He interweaves Woolf’s struggle to begin her novel Mrs Dalloway with an exploration of how the book impacts two subsequent readers in 1940s Los Angeles and in contemporary New York. This exquisitely written and subtle novel is a Pulitzer Prize winner and also an acclaimed film.
In translations of The Odyssey, the lives of women appeared to be largely unadventurous. In this original novel Miller explores a defiant woman scorned by the gods. Circe is born in the house of sun god Helios. A strange child, she is scorned and rejected. Her gift of witchcraft results in her being banished to a distant island. Her encounter with the mortal Odysseus will change everything. Circe is a must-read for fans of Greek mythology. In a similar vein, check out Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.
What happened while adventurer Lemuel Gulliver was away during Gulliver’s Travels? In this exquisite story, midwife and mother Mary Burton Gulliver has rebuilt her life in the absence of her husband, lost at sea. But when he returns, telling wild tales of mythical lands, everything familiar is disrupted. In a world of poverty and violence, she must find the truth and a way forward for her family and the women in her care. This is an imaginative look at an untold side of Swift’s classic story in early 18th-century London.
Do you have another classic-inspired favourite? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org