I've read a LOT of retellings of both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and April Lindner's Jane and Catherine are two of my favorites. Both capture the atmosphere and drama of the originals, both integrate details from the originals while still telling a fresh story, and both succeed in making the stories work in the present day despite the significant changes to technology, culture, and gender roles that have occurred since the time of the Brontë sisters.
Actually, in regards to that last strength, one of the super things about Lindner's books is that while they do make allowances for those big cultural and technological shifts, they also—seemingly conversely in theory, but it TOTALLY WORKS in practice—show that in some ways, people haven't actually changed all that much.
Long story short, her books are good stuff, and I'm dying to read the one she's working on: a retelling of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View.
And now, I shall turn it over to the woman herself:
Retellings presents certain challenges for a writer: How can a book pay tribute to the original and yet still stand on its own? And will readers who adore the original open their hearts to an adaptation? As much as I love literary retellings (and I do!) I’m a pretty skeptical reader of them. I wonder as I read: does the author love the original as much as I do? Does the book stand on its own?
Here are ten books that rise to the challenge. I've saved my absolute favorites for last.
10. For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund.
Right off the bat, I’m cheating a little, because I’m in the middle of reading this novel right now! So far, though, it’s a really promising Young Adult dystopian version of one of my favorites, Jane Austen’s Persuasion. After a genetic experiment devastates the earth, technology is outlawed by the ruling class. Elliot North, the daughter of a Luddite landowner refuses to run away with the servant boy she loves. Years later, he returns and Elliot must chose between love and duty.
9. Ash, by Malinda Lo.
This Young Adult retelling of Cinderella takes some big risks and makes them pay off. To the story’s familiar elements—a wicked stepmother, a young girl forced into virtual slavery, a prince—Lo adds a darkly seductive netherworld of fairies and a romance with the king’s huntress.
8. Austenland, by Shannon Hale.
I haven’t seen the movie version yet, but I really enjoyed this fun and frothy book. It’s not a straightforward retelling of Pride and Prejudice so much as a contemporary romp inspired by that grandmamma of all romantic comedies. A young New Yorker obsessed with Pride and Prejudice takes a trip to an English resort for Austen fanatics. At the novel’s heart is the eternal question: will she find her very own Mr. Darcy?
7. Ophelia, by Lisa Klein.
This Young Adult novel retells Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view, finding her inner strength and independence. Klein’s love of her source material shines through; Ophelia’s first person voice feels true to the original. I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Ophelia; I even named my yellow lab after her! So I’m grateful for this book which lets me see her intelligence and her will to survive.
6. The Three Weissmans of Westport, by Cathleen Schine.
Falling in love wisely has always been a matter of finding the balance between what our hearts want and what our heads advise. This novel discovers the many ways in which Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility still rings true today.
5. A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley.
This unsettling retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear stands on its own. An Iowa farmer decides to split his land among his three daughters, unleashing all that is dark in their personalities.
4. Here on Earth, by Alice Hoffman.
A woman returns to her hometown, teenage daughter in tow, and finds herself drawn to her abusive ex-lover. This update of Wuthering Heights captures some of the original’s brooding atmosphere as it explores the perils of being hopelessly drawn to Mr. Wrong.
3. Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding.
Like the movie that it spawned, this riff on Pride and Prejudice is good, frothy fun.
2. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.
Mere words can’t express how moved I was by this novel. Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it tells the riveting story of a pharmaceuticals researcher who travels into the depths of the Amazon to investigate a colleague’s mysterious death. I read everything Patchett writes, and this is my favorite among her books so far.
1. Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier.
Inspired by Jane Eyre, this dark psychological thriller is a classic in its own right. A timid young bride moves into the mansion her older widowed husband shared with his first wife. Our narrator is haunted by insecurities and suspicions: how can she ever compete with her husband’s memories of the glamorous Rebecca? Bonus: the movie version, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, is fantastic too.
Previously:Sarah Beth Durst's Ten Favorite Atmospheric Reads. Lauren Roedy Vaughn's Five Favorite Literary Adult Mentors... Plus Two Characters Who Need One.