A Book that Is a Retelling of Another Story: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge

October 14, 2022 | Joel

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TPL Reading Challenge 2022

Why retell a classic story or work? If it was a classic, why does it need retelling? Perhaps like children who long to hear their favourite stories again and again, as readers we enjoy encountering familiar tales transformed by skilled authors into new creations or given modern clothes that refashion these stories and challenge us to think about them in new ways.

For me, Shakespeare remains a favourite, and recently, The Hogarth Press published several authors' retellings of Shakespeare's plays. The list includes Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time (The Winter's Tale), and Jo Nesbo's Macbeth. Outside of this project, many others have also been inspired to re-tell or re-imagine Shakespeare's works: here is a longer list.

Dunbar

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

The book in the series I read was Edward St. Aubyn's Dunbar, a retelling of "King Lear." – St. Aubyn is most well-known for his electric Patrick Melrose series. An aging Canadian media tycoon, Dunbar unwisely hands over care of his corporation to his two eldest daughters. We know how that goes, and he soon finds himself imprisoned in an upscale sanatorium. Accompanied by a wayward comedian, Dunbar escapes, separately pursued both by his beloved youngest daughter and the pair of odious daughters hungry for his estate. 

When we encounter Lear on stage at the beginning of Shakespeare's play, we may be uncertain how to respond to this vain, aging king from an ancient realm, but as an aging media tycoon Lear is transformed into both a more familiar and more complex figure. The modern twist and St. Aubyn's own skill produce new insights into the original Lear and the ideas of love, betrayal and family that Shakespeare himself deals with. 

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about family
  • a book about mental health

Staff Recommendations

Here are some more suggestions from TPL staff.

Darling girl

Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

This is a beautiful and darkly magical modern-day reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s classic, Peter Pan. To save her daughter's life one woman (Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy) must take on the infamous Peter—who is not the innocent adventurer the fairy tales make him out to be.

– Jo-Ann, Library Assistant

Swallowed man

The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey

This is a wildly strange book, written as the journal of a man who has been swallowed by a giant fish and is living on the wreck of a ship the fish also swallowed. Sounds like it might be a retelling of Jonah and the Whale, but in fact, we learn that Giuseppe found himself in this predicament while searching for his runaway wooden son, Pinocchio. A fever dream of a book, really.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about family
  • a book about art
  • a book about solitude

– Kasey, Librarian

Snow child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale. Jack and Mabel are a couple who have recently relocated to Alaska. Jack is overwhelmed by working on their farm, while Mabel is heartbroken over their inability to have children and from being away from her family. One day, after the first snowfall, they build a child from snow. The next day, the snow child is gone, but they see a little girl in the trees with a fox by her side. Faina is seen as the child they never had. This beautiful story is a perfect holiday read, and Alaska in the 1920s is the perfect landscape in this story of love, friendship and community.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about magic

– Debra, Librarian

Song of achilles

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This story is an adaptation of "The Iliad" specifically through the perspective of Patroclus. The book follows the life of Patroclus and, of course, his relationship with Achilles. Miller uses key facts of their stories alongside inspiration from a number of ancient Greek and Roman writers to piece together this retelling. The narration uses a modern style, which causes the novel to have a somewhat timeless feel to it. In my opinion, it not only toes the line between modern and ancient, but also fantasy and reality.

I personally have never been very interested in Greek mythology, and yet find myself rereading this novel every year.

– Anonymous

Home fire

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Shamsie reimagines Sophocles' play "Antigone" unfolding among British Muslim twins Aneeka and Parvaiz, as well as older sister Isma. It was also the winner of the 2018 Women's Prize for fiction.

– Nalini, Senior Department Head

Vinegar girl

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Tyler veers a bit from the original story. I mean, did she have a choice? But, her humour and acerbic affection for her characters are worth it.

– Alyson, Senior Branch Head

Penelopiad

Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

This book is a striking and caustic reimagining of the Greek epic "The Odyssey." Told from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus' long-suffering and famously faithful wife, The Penelopiad explores the trials she bore while her husband gallivanted about the world for a decade after the Trojan war—and what becomes of her afterward. Written with a chorus of her twelve hanged maids chiming in throughout, the novel is both haunting and humorous. A wonderfully unexpected take on the most classic of literature, Atwood gives voice to those women overlooked along the heroes journey.

– Heather, Public Service Assistant

Weight of blood

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

Jackson's latest young adult horror, The Weight of Blood retells Stephen King’s Carrie with brilliant social commentary about the true horrors of systemic and internalized racism and anti-blackness. The novel follows Maddy and the events leading up to and the aftermath of her high school's first integrated prom. Maddy is an outcast at her high school in the small town of Springville. One day an incident and subsequent viral video reveal her secret to her classmates and make national news. Maddy is biracial. For her entire life she has been passing for white at her fanatical white father's request. The novel is set in 2014 and is inspired by real small towns in the United States, including ones in Georgia that still have racially segregated proms. Jackson expertly uses many of Carrie's plot points to create a highly relevant, suspenseful, and gruesome story.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a coming-of-age story by a BIPOC author

– Nicole, Youth Librarian

Ayesha at last

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin 

This story is a refreshing retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The main characters come from the close-knit South Asian community of our own Scarborough. Modern day Elizabeth is an ambitious and progressive Ayesha: strong willed and independent, who at first is not overly impressed after meeting rich, aloof and conservative Khalid ... especially as her life is full of challenges like starting her first teaching job or being constantly sucked into the drama of her spoiled and selfish younger cousin Hafsa (an equivalent of the original Pride and Prejudice's Lydia).  The author weaves the story skillfully with lots of humour and lightness, but she also focuses on serious problems like prejudice that many immigrants face in their personal and professional lives in North America.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about family
  • a book by an author from Toronto

–Anna, Librarian

Recommendations from our Facebook Group

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "une adaptation" - there's a mix of books, eBooks and digital audiobooks to try!

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