By Lucy Lillystone, Ellie Brady, Sarah Lundy, Kelly Stone and Amy Wright
From fairy tales to the literary classics, retellings put an updated spin on iconic stories that we all know and love. This trend has been especially popular lately, allowing readers to reimagine their favourite characters through a modern lens or place familiar plots in new and exciting settings!
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
In Sophocles’s Antigone, religion and family are brought into conflict in which the play’s heroine is torn by opposing loyalties and compelled to oppose the power of the state. Kamila Shamsie has reworked this Greek tragedy to frame a powerful tragedy of her own, telling the story of a British Muslim family in contemporary London. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Home Fire sees religious duty collide with family, relationships and identity, questioning the definition of ‘home’ and where one's loyalties should consequently lie. Through the modernisation of the myth and the disengagement it provides as a template, Shamsie embraces the uncanny and allows us to perceive what would usually be hidden or ignored. Necessary and uncomfortable questions are blatant and unavoidable. This modern retelling is certainly required reading for anyone living in the modern world.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham’s The Hours is a bold retelling of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. His story chronicles three women in various decades of the 20th century being affected by the novel: Woolf herself in 1920s England, Mrs. Brown in 1940s Los Angeles, and Clarissa Vaughan — a very literal recreation of Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway — in New York City in 1999. Playing with temporality is a distinct Woolfian trait and all of the novel's events occur in one single day in a homage to the original. This modern retelling also allows for some bold exploration of LGBT issues through its queer and lesbian female characters. It is hard to retell stories uniquely and with real purpose, but Cunningham masters it here.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Chloe Gong’s debut novel is a Young Adult historical fantasy retelling of the Shakespearean classic Romeo & Juliet. Set in 1920s Shanghai, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are heirs to rival gangs whose influence divides the gritty streets of the city. However, their story diverges from the original play since it takes place several years after Juliette and Roma have already fallen in love against their families’ wishes: a relationship that ended in a searing betrayal. Now, with renewed ire separating them, this unlikely pair may just have to work together when a deadly contagion ravages the city and decimates the ranks of their fellow gangsters. This unexpected fantasy element brings even higher stakes to the already tragic story arc of Romeo and Juliet and highlights these iconic characters’ agency in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation. The ending will leave you in shock and in need of the sequel, These Violent Ends, which will be released in November 2021.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everyone has heard the story of the Trojan War, the heroics of Achilles and the fall of Troy. A Thousand Ships, however, differs in one important and refreshingly original way: it’s told from the perspective of the girls, the women and the goddesses. Impeccably researched, Natalie Haynes takes Homer’s horrifying tales of war, religion and politics and presents these themes through the lens of feminism. Haynes gives an authentic voice to the silenced women who are integral to the original tale, and yet are never given the space to flourish, such as Briseis and Chryseis. Without these women, Achilles would not have withdrawn his forces and Patroclus would not have taken his place. Including the action that leads up to the war and the consequences that follow, A Thousand Ships is also written as an anthology of stories as chronology is abandoned in favour of chapters weaving back and forth. With my favourite parts being Penelope’s letters to Odysseus, A Thousand Ships is the perfect retelling of Homer’s classics for fans of Greek mythology.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
It would be impossible to discuss mythic retellings without celebrating Madeline Miller. She has completely redefined this increasingly popular genre, first with her beautiful The Song of Achilles and most recently with the enthralling Circe. You may have heard of The Song of Achilles because of its viral success on BookTok that saw it race back up the charts. If you’ve already read it, you’ll understand why. This heartbreaking and powerful story follows Achilles and his childhood friend Patroclus in their painful but beautiful love story. The vivid story captures your heart and imagination as you are consumed by this ancient story retold in a profoundly modern way. The need for fame and making a mark on the world is constantly thrown into contention with a yearning to care for and love someone. It is truly breath-taking and will have you weeping on BookTok like the rest of us.