Looking for something to read over the summer? Why not try a re-telling of a classic work of fiction or drama?
Some of the best stories out there are based on classic fiction. Did you know, for example, that the 1995 teen movie Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma? Or that 10 Things I Hate About You was inspired by the plot of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew? It’s even been suggested that The Lion King is based on Hamlet (really – Google it!) but we think that might be stretching it slightly.
Back in book world, two recent publishing initiatives have set out to re-tell the collected works of both Jane Austen and Shakespeare. The Austen Project paired up six contemporary bestselling writers with Austen’s six novels, challenging them to re-write the stories from a modern perspective. The latest book in the series is Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, in which present-day Lizzie Bennet (now a New York writer) and Jane (a yoga instructor) move back in with their family and navigate relationships in the gossipy suburbs.
Crime writer Val McDermid took on Northanger Abbey in 2014, recasting the original Catherine Morland as Cat, a Twilight-obsessed teenager who begins to wonder if the new friends she meets at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival have something supernatural about them. Other books in the series are Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, with two titles still to be published.
The second project is The Hogarth Shakespeare, in which popular novelists relocate Shakespeare’s plays to the present day. Works covered so far include A Winter’s Tale (Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time) and The Merchant of Venice (Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name). Also in the series is Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, about an exiled theatre director staging The Tempest in a prison; read her explanation of the creative process behind the book in this Guardian article.
Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is another recent title, reimagining The Taming of the Shrew’s Kate as a single woman coaxed into a green card marriage with her father’s lab assistant. With so much source material, there are plenty still to come in this collection, including Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s take on Hamlet… pencilled in for 2021, so be patient. “If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”
If you like this sort of thing, you could also check out:
Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991): this Pulitzer-winning novel reworked King Lear into a 1970s-set tale of an Iowa farmer dividing his land between three daughters.
Longbourn (2013) by Jo Baker: the plot of Pride and Prejudice re-imagined from the servants’ perspective.
The Wide Sargasso Sea (1966): Jean Rhys fills in the back story of Mr Rochester’s first wife from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
You might be wondering, “Can I even borrow library books over the summer?” The answer is yes – unless you’re about to graduate. If your course is finishing this summer, you need to return your library books and pay off any outstanding fines before your course end date (ask if your unsure when this is!). For everybody else, you can keep your books over the summer. Just remember to renew your items after 1st July to keep them, fine-free, until the new term starts in September.
If you’ve been inspired by this and want to get your hands on some of these texts – check out our display in the library!
Alternatively, all the books listed above can be found at the following class numbers (but don’t forget to double-check the catalogue first before heading to the shelves, as they may be on loan!):
- Margaret Atwood, Hag-seed 813.54 ATW
- Anne Tyler, Vinegar Girl 813.54 TYL
- Howard Jacobson, Shylock is my Name 823.92 JAC
- Jeanette Winterson, The gap of time 823.92 WIN
- Joanna Trollope, Sense and Sensibility 823.914 TRO
- Val McDermid, Northanger Abbey 823.92 MCD
- Alexander McCall Smith, Emma 823.92 MCC
- Curtis Sittenfeld, Eligible 813.6 SIT
- Jo Baker, Longbourn 823.92 BAK
- Jane Smiley, A thousand acres 813.54 SMI
- Josephine Tey, Daughter of time 823.912 TEY
- Angela Carter, Wise children 823.914 CAR
- Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea 823.91 RHY
- Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary 823.914 FIE
- PD James, Death comes to Pemberley 823.914 JAM