Some people hear classic literature and think, boring. Outdated stories, outdated perspectives. It can be difficult to find the motivation to pick up a classic tome and make your way through it. Sometimes, you need a more modern story to help peak your interest in these celebrated pieces of literature. That’s where classic retellings come in.
These are the product of inspiration, giving new voices to old tales. Whether you’re looking to revisit an old favourite or discover a new classic, there’s a modern retelling out there for you.
*Disclosure: We only recommend books which we love and would read ourselves. This post contains affiliate links, as we are part of the Amazon Services LCC Associate Program, which may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you.
10. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Inspired by: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Perhaps one of the quintessential classic retellings of one of the worlds most beloved classics, it’s easy to forget that this hilarious chick-lit novel with its self-aware heroine is a retelling at all. The wildly popular story has spawned a few sequels and a beloved film franchise to boot. If you’re looking for a light-hearted take on a famous romance, follow Bridget on her quest of self-improvement, which goes about as well as mine would
9. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Inspired by: The Iliad by Homer
A beautifully prosaic retelling of a Greek classic doesn’t come along every day, but Pat Barker delivers an epic rendition of the Trojan war with a brutally honest female perspective. The Silence of the Girls tells the story of Briseis, Queen of a neighboring kingdom of Troy until they were overtaken, and her husband and brothers were murdered.
Now claimed by Achilles as his personal prisoner, Briseis must learn to navigate a new life along with all of the forgotten conquered women, often mistreated and ignored while subjected to the horrors of life after war.
8. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Inspired by: Othello by William Shakespeare
Classic retellings of Shakespeare’s works are one of those fascinating parts of the literary world that I love to explore. Author Tracy Chevalier gives her entry into the Hogarth Shakespeare series with New Boy, a fresh take on the tragedy of Othello. Set against the backdrop of a school in the suburbs, with adolescent tensions and love triangles to boot. Who could ask for more?
7. Fool by Christopher Moore
Inspired by: King Lear by William Shakespeare
A comedic take on a generally tragic story can be tough, but Christopher Moore always seems to find a way to keep the laughs coming. Turning the story of King Lear upside down, Fool follows the chain of events from the perspective of Lear’s hilarious-and horny-court jester named Pocket.
Filled with all of the smutty humour and general tom-foolery that you could want, this is one story that will tickle the funny bone of even the most staunch haters of the bard.
6. Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra
Inspired by: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A heartwarming update of a heartwarming classic, Meg & Jo is Little Women for a new audience. Follow the March sisters that you already love through their trials and tribulations in a modern world. Struggles with work, family and love follow the girls as they discover more about themselves and each other. If the heart of Little Women is your thing and classic retellings make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, this is the story for you.
5. Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Inspired by: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Do you have a love of classic retellings as well as murder mysteries? Does an Agatha Christie classic tickle your fancy? Then this fresh take of her masterpiece And Then There Were None is for you. When friends Meg & Minnie are invited to an extremely exclusive house party on the secluded Henry Island, they think they’re in for the time of their lives.
They have no idea that it’ll actually be the fight for their lives. With a storm raging and the guests being picked off one by one, they’ll need to unmask the killer, before they fall prey to the same fate as the other partygoers. If this sounds at all familiar, Lifetime made a loosely based film adaptation of the novel back in 2017.
4. Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman
Inspired by: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
If classic retellings that are still in the same vein of the original story are what you’re looking for, then Rebecca’s Tale is the kind of story that you’ll love. Set twenty years after the events of Daphne du Maurier’s indisputable gothic masterpiece, questions arise when a de Winter family friend receives a mysterious package that he cannot understand, containing information about the late Rebecca. Together along with his daughter and a young scholar who’s come to town, he’ll uncover many unknown truths about Rebecca de Winter’s life and death…whether he wants to or not.
3. Great by Sara Benincasa
Inspired by: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A young adult take on a jazz-age classic, Great shifts its glitz from Long Island over to the Hamptons. Mysterious socialites and unexpected tragedy shape the story, with a social scene that would make F. Scott Fitzgerald proud. The twists are modern, but the glam is all Gatsby. This readers’ 1920s’ loving heart is all about the Gatsby updates.
2. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Inspired by: The Wizard of Oz by Frank Oz
The yellow brick road has never looked so bleak. It’s been years since Dorothy sought out the wizard and defeated the wicked witch. Now, Oz is crumbling and Amy Gumm, Kansas native, has been dispatched to fight. First, she’ll need to understand how this grand city has gotten to this point.
Everything is backwards; wicked witches are trustworthy and good witches are the enemy. And Dorothy herself may not be the hero that she used to be. When classic retellings take a dark turn they make the source material that much more fascinating to reexamine.
1. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Inspired by: Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
One of the classic modern retellings of arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play, These Modern Delights offers a new take and multi-faceted story that is part horror, part young adult, and part street politics. Set in 1920s Shanghai, rivals the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers fight for control of the city. Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov were lovers, until a betrayal drove them apart.
Now, with people going mad in the streets and rumours of a monster in the river, they’ll have to put aside their differences and work together to save their city, and themselves, before it’s too late. There’s a lot of love out there for this debut from Chloe Gong – including our own detailed review – and a sequel is on the way next year.
|Honorable Mentions||Inspired By|
|Destroyer by Victor Lavalle||Frankenstein|
|The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepard||The Island of Doctor Moreau|
|Telling Tales by Patience Agbabi||The Canterbury Tales|
|Bolsbury Hill by Susan M. Wyler||Wuthering Heights|
Classic retellings are a niche genre with so many wonderful opportunities for fresh voices, and they can find ways of drawing readers into certain classics that they may have never previously considered picking up. Check out these twists on old classics, and don’t be afraid to pick up their source material; you won’t regret it.
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