Eight new retellings & reimaginings of classics

There are certain stories that we keep coming back to time and again in many different incarnations. Traditional stories, folktales, fairytales, myths and legends – they’ve lasted this long because their enduring themes are as relevant today as they were hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

Here are eight recent releases where classic stories have been re-interpreted for a contemporary new audience.


Circe by Madeline Miller

In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is an enchantress who falls in love with Odysseus, and tricks him into staying with her after she turns his men into pigs. Possibly literature’s first witch, her story is developed, enriched, and given a powerfully feminist slant in Madeline Miller’s new novel, Circe. Miller, who previously won the Women’s Prize for Literature for her retelling of Homer’s Iliad, has taken the kernels dropped by the poet’s original text to create an engrossing story about a complex woman. Our reviewer says: ‘I could not turn away from this adventure. Even when the last page was done, Circe continued to linger in my thoughts days after.’

If you’re interested in ancient mythology it’s also worth checking out Emily Wilson’s remarkable new adaptation of the Odyssey. Wilson is the first woman to translate this famous work, and the result is a vivid and fresh new take on a familiar story.


Macbeth by Jo Nesbø (translated by Don Bartlett)

The Hogarth Shakespeare project sees some of the world’s most successful contemporary authors reimagining the Bard’s plays. The newest instalment in the series is Macbeth, from acclaimed Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø. Set in 1970’s Inverness, Nesbø has populated his gritty crime thriller with drug rings, bikie gangs, and corrupt policemen where the ambitious and volatile Inspector Macbeth is manipulated into wresting power from the idealistic chief of police, Duncan. Our reviewer says that Macbeth is a clever and readable retelling, and while it shares all of the elements of the original play, readers might be surprised by the direction Nesbø’s story takes.

You can find the other contributions to the Hogarth Shakespeare project here.


The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross (May)

This upcoming YA novel from Canberra-based writer, Leife Shallcross, is an accomplished debut that takes the story of Beauty and the Beast and flips it. Instead of concentrating on the (vaguely Stockholm Syndromey) original tale, Shallcross offers an alternative, and arguably more interesting, perspective on the story: the Beast’s. The Beast’s Heart is a deeply sympathetic and richly-imagined story of love and redemption.


Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Renee Ahdieh’s bestselling debut, The Wrath and the Dawn, re-imagined folk tale, ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. In Flame in the Mist she draws upon both the real-life legend of Hua Mulan, and a 14th century fairytale that her Korean mother used to read to her, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is the story of 17-year-old Mariko, who disguises herself as a man and infiltrates a dangerous gang of bandits, the Black Clan, in feudal Japan.

If you’re keen for more Chinese legends you should definitely read A Hero Born, the first book in the long-awaited English translation of Jin Yong’s blockbuster Legends of the Condor Heroes series.


Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Over the past few years, Australian author Kate Forsyth has been working her way through fairytales, one at a time. With each book, she takes a classic fairytale and re-imagines into an impeccably researched historical novel populated with real-world characters. Bitter Greens (Rapunzel) is set in 16th century Venice, and The Beast’s Garden (Beauty and the Beast) plays out in Nazi Germany during World War II. Her most recent novel, Beauty in Thorns, is the Sleeping Beauty fable told through the stories of four women who inspired the most influential Pre-Raphaelite artists.


The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Set in 2049 on a nearly uninhabitable Earth, The Book of Joan offers a futuristic retelling of the story of Joan of Arc. The human race has survived extinction by evacuating to a gigantic space station called CIEL that operates under the control of the bloodthirsty dictator, Jean de Men. A group of revolutionaries are determined to overthrow him by rallying behind the child-rebel, Joan.


Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, Frankenstein in Baghdad is a satirical retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Set in war-torn Iraq, it’s about Hadi, a scavenger who has constructed a monster out of bits of human bodies found strewn about his bombed-out neighbourhood. His motive is pure – he wants the government to recognise the figure as human, so that it will receive a proper burial – but things get a bit out of hand after the creature comes to life and starts terrorising the neighbourhood. Our reviewer says: ‘ Frankenstein in Baghdad is a blackly comic satire of bureaucracy and power, and how the everyday people caught up in war most often have no idea what’s going on in the upper echelons of government.’


Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the Austen project sees contemporary authors adapt Austen’s stories to modern-day settings. The most recent of these is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible , an affectionate, witty, and wholeheartedly contemporary re-telling of Pride and Prejudice set in 21st century Cincinnati. Our reviewer says: ‘ Eligible is one of the funniest and smartest adaptations I’ve ever read. Sittenfeld demonstrates a real understanding of and affection for the original material, alongside a willingness to take risks in her version of events.’

You can find the other contributions to the Austen project here.

More books to look out for later this year…

Other retellings of classic stories to watch out for over the next few months include Mallory Ortberg’s wickedly funny and subversive collection of fairytales, The Merry Spinster; Maria Dahvana Headley’s suburban Beowulf adaptation, The Mere Wife; and L.L. McKinney’s urban fantasy re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, A Blade so Black.

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Madeline Miller

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