As a Jane Austen fan, I’m a sucker for a good retelling. I don’t care about the continuing stories (what happened after Elizabeth and Darcy got married is best left to the imagination), but give me a modern spin on an Austen classic and there’s a good chance I won’t leave my reading chair until I turn the last page. Retellings are doubly fun because I get to enjoy the story on the page and puzzle out the author’s modern character and plot choices. Even if the story aspect disappoints, the puzzling rarely does.
Because they’re both fresh and familiar, and operate on multiple levels, I turn to these when I’m in need of a little comfort reading, or need to kick myself out of a reading slump.
I don’t enjoy every retelling (and I’ve left my dislikes off this list), but I’ve enjoyed a great many—and today I’m sharing seven of my favorites. As always, I’d love to hear your favorites in comments.
Are we calling this a modern classic yet? At the dawn of another New Year, Bridget Jones is 32, single, and desperate to take control of her life—so she starts keeping a diary. And such a diary. Bridget is a free spirit, fond of witty banter, enthusiastic about everything, and her enthusiasm lives on every page, where she shares her never-lukewarm opinions about everything from diet to work her love life. She may seem flighty, but she's always searching for deeper meaning. She also has great people skills. This might not be obvious when she first meets straight-laced barrister Mark Darcy, but the novel is based on Pride and Prejudice, so of course they get off to a bumpy start. More info →
You all keep saying this fresh update on Jean Webster's 1899 classic Daddy-Long-Legs with serious nods to Jane Austen's Emma is your favorite Katherine Reay novel; I think it might be mine as well. Samantha Moore spent her childhood struggling in the foster care system, relying on her favorite literary characters to survive. She even expresses herself using their words when she can't find her own. Samantha's big break comes when a "Mr. Knightley" offers her a full scholarship at the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University. The only requirement is that Sam write her benefactor regularly to tell him about her progress. Through their correspondence, Sam begins to find her voice ... but then things get complicated. More info →
This is the fourth installment of the Jane Austen Project, which invites contemporary authors to rework Jane Austen's novels for modern times, and my hands-down favorite. Our modern tale is set in Cincinnati, where Lizzie is re-cast as an NYC-based magazine editor, Jane is a yoga instructor nearing 40, Darcy is a snooty brain surgeon, and Bingley is an ER doctor turned star of the reality show "Eligible." The purists will need their smelling salts, but Sittenfeld is no Jane Austen, and she's okay with that: her snappy writing and spirit of playfulness make this such good fun for Jane Austen fans, if you're willing to go with it. More info →
You all have been telling me to read this for YEARS, and last week I finally listened to the Audible version, which I quite enjoyed. I listened to this really fast because I wanted to find out what happens next. In this interesting twist on Pride and Prejudice, Ormiston imagines what might have happened had Elizabeth accepted Darcy's first proposal. This story focuses almost exclusively on the romance plot lines and is mostly dialogue, but I found it fun and entertaining, and—unlike so many other retellings—appreciated how Ormiston left the book's characters largely intact. More info →
This is more "riff" than "retelling"—but if you love Jane Austen AND Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, give this one a try. I'm not the only one who found this Jane Austen time travel novel a pleasant surprise. At some unspecified point in the future, the earth's atmosphere has been destroyed, food can no longer be grown, and wormholes to the past are in constant use. So when Rachel is asked to go back in time and retrieve the finished (yes, really!) manuscript of The Watsons, she jumps at the chance. But things do not go as planned. More info →
Readers, this new take on Sense and Sensibility was so much fun. Perhaps not great literature, but easy-reading, well-constructed, and enjoyable. In this novel, two broke adult sisters and their sweet little sister flee expensive San Francisco to set up a new tea shop in Austin, Texas. The bones of Austen's original are visible, but Lodge doesn't hew too closely to the original, to her credit. I spent a happy afternoon devouring this book. More info →
In this brand-new short novel from the author of Something in Between, de la Cruz re-envisions Pride and Prejudice for the 21st century. But in her version, the gender roles are reversed: Darcy Fitzwilliam is a brilliant, successful career woman, and Luke Bennet is a minimalist carpenter (and one of five brothers) who's never left his hometown. This novel doesn't stand on its own; it needs Austen's background to prop it up, and that's fine by me. I especially enjoyed tracking how de la Cruz chose to interpret Austen's characters here, and the spot-on way she updates that first proposal for modern times. More info →
What are YOUR favorite Jane Austen retellings? Which ones would you add to this list?