Greek mythology-inspired retellings

Song of Achilles- Miller
This reimagining of the Trojan War emphasizes the humanity of oft-mythologized characters, bringing these larger-than-life figures down to earth. In this instance, Achilles and Patroclus are lovers and the prophecy of Achilles’s death looms over all their interactions. Miller offers a 21st century perspective while honoring the original work with strong, poetic writing. Ann Patchett says: "At once a scholar's homage to The Iliad and startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented novelist….A book I could not put down."
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A highly discussable psychological thriller set on an iconic British campus. This twisty mystery begins when Mariana, a group psychotherapist grieving the recent death of her husband, receives a frantic call from her niece Tara saying her friend and floormate has been murdered. Mariana travels to investigate—and soon, what began as concern escalates into obsession as she draws from what she knows of human behavior to uncover the murderer in their midst. The clues lead her straight to the charismatic Classics professor Edward Fosca and his secret Cambridge society known as the Maidens, but proving the case might destroy her. Be mindful of the obvious triggers that accompany a murder mystery, plus self-harm and brief graphic scenes. I hated the controversial ending, but I would dearly love to discuss it with my book club.
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The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Strongly reminiscent of The Likeness in setting, Crime and Punishment in plot, and Brideshead Revisited in tone. I finally read this recently, and now I understand why opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character.
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A fresh, feminist reimagining of the Trojan War’s origins, told from the perspective of two Spartan princesses. Privileged sisters Helen and Klytemnestra are Spartan royalty, but how much power do the most powerful women in Sparta wield? Not much. In this realistic retelling, Heywood imagines the inner lives of the Spartan princesses as they come of age, marry powerful men to better Sparta’s future, and become mothers. Heywood paints a vivid portrait of both their everyday life and the major events of Greek mythology, like the competition Helen’s father held for her hand. Heywood paints the sisters as dear to each other and shows how, though they had little control over the significant choices that shaped their lives, they faced them with admirable tenacity.
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This spellbinding dysfunctional family saga set in small-town Texas puts a modern spin on Greek tragedy, full of fistfights and firearms. Everyone knows everyone else’s business in the fictional town of Olympus, especially when it comes to the notorious Briscoe family. The clan is “a walking collection of deadly sins,” and due to patriarch Peter’s philandering, his children populate several households in town. When prodigal son March returns home after a years-long exile imposed after sleeping with his sister-in- law, he sets a devastating chain of events in motion. Though the story spans a mere six days, several lifetimes’ worth of secrets are revealed in that time, and the ensuing consequences to the family and their town are irrevocable. I devoured this. Content warnings apply. For fans of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth.
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From the publisher: "Every story has two sides. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years. At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation."
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From the publisher: "Composed at the rosy-fingered dawn of world literature almost three millennia ago, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home."
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National Book Award Finalist * Printz Award Winner for Best Young Adult Book of the Year. From School Library Journal: "It is a rare book that sits comfortably on the shelf with the works of Twain, McCullers, Conroy, Stephen King, and D'Aulaires' Greek Myths-rarer still that a novel combines elements of these authors together. Bone Gap does just this, to superb effect."
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"Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic." Haynes seeks to upend that familiar narrative in this retelling of the Trojan War myth that centers the voices of women, girls, and the three goddesses whose feud started it all. While not shying away from the brutality of the ancient narrative, Haynes, a former stand-up comedian, laces her often difficult tale with a dark edge of humor. Nowhere is this more evident than in Penelope's story, which unfolds as a series of gloriously snarky letters to her husband Odysseus.
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This one is a National Book Award AND Alex Award winner—that's an overlap you don't often see! From the publisher: "Unfolding over 12 days, the story follows a poor family living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. With Hurricane Katrina bearing down on them, the Batistes struggle to maintain their community and familial bonds amid the storm and the stark poverty surrounding them. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. While brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bone is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real."
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A reimagining of Ovid's epic poem Metamorphoses, which contains over 250 Greek myths. Here we have 53 short stories (some very short), each of which gets a new twist or reinterpretation. Like so many of the novels on this list, Mason gets inside these ancient characters' heads, showing us the situations from their perspectives, and making them feel human to modern readers. The loosely connected tales highlight the original work’s theme of metamorphosis or transformation.
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The New York Times says Home Fire "builds to one of the most memorable final scenes I've read in a novel this century." From the publisher: "The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences. Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she's accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma's worst fears are confirmed. Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined."
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This tough and tender coming-of–age story is Part Grapes of Wrath and part Huckleberry Finn, while mirroring The Odyssey’s narrative. The tale centers on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river in a canoe. Their little band by turns encounters kind strangers and others all too willing to exploit vulnerable children. For those of you who say my husband Will is your book twin: he loved this. An epic story, beautifully told, and one that contains perhaps the finest setup-and-payoff sequence I’ve read in years. Content warnings apply. For fans of Krueger’s Ordinary Grace and Jess Walter’s The Cold Millions.
If you don’t remember Lavinia from The Aeneid, that’s because she never spoke a word. Ursula K. Le Guin, best known for her science fiction, decided to give her a voice and we are all better for it. Lavinia, the daughter of a king, has a good life until suitors begin to appear and the prophesy is issued: she must marry a foreigner, she’ll be the cause of war, and her husband is destined to live only a short time. She decides to chart her own course instead and live a life Virgil could never have imagined.
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This fun novel—and book club favorite—combines three unexpected elements to great effect: World War I, a love story, and Greek mythology. It begins with Aphrodite and Ares walking into a swanky Manhattan hotel during WWII, and soon enough Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus challenges her to show him what love really looks like. She obliges, and takes the reader back in time to meet four young lovers in 1917 Britain, showing her fellow gods how each couple fell in love, and what they mean to each other. It sounds unlikely but the interesting narrative structure totally works.
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Several of Tóibín's works put fresh spins on classical tales. More loosely inspired by The Oresteian Trilogy than a strict retelling, this narrative follows King Agamemnon three years after he ordered his daughter to be sacrificed in order to win the Trojan War, and then went off to war himself. His wife Queen Clytemnestra has spent that time plotting his murder, and his daughter and son have their own decisions to make. Longing, betrayal, revenge—this story has it all.
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Taylor Jenkins Reid selected this for Book of the Month Club saying, "I'm a sucker for a good retelling, especially if it's about the Ancient Greeks. And yet, it still exceeded my expectations. The Silence of the Girls recounts the story as seen through the eyes of Briseis, a Trojan queen taken as a slave by Achilles as his reward for the sack of Lyrnessus. As the years-long battle wages on, Briseis tries to make sense of her new life in the encampments. She bonds with the other women held captive, finds something resembling friendship with Achilles's companion, Patroclus, and soon becomes a pawn between Achilles and King Agamemnon. There are no true 'heroes' here. Instead, we are focused on the humanity of the women caught in the cross fire. Briseis may still be tied up in Achilles's story, but she is no longer silent."
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You’ve never encountered The Iliad like this before. Presenting the rise and fall of Troy, writer, actor, and humorist Stephen Fry has a knack for making Greek mythology compulsively readable. Or listenable, in my case. I especially appreciated how he constantly assures his listener to sit back, relax, and enjoy the stories. These reimagined myths feel like bedtime stories for grownups; it's easy to get lost in the tales of valiant heroes and dastardly villains, which feel by turns fresh and familiar.
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Often cited as C. S. Lewis's greatest work, here he retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Lewis said he was haunted by the source material all his life, because he was struck by how illogical some of the main characters' actions were. By recasting the myth as the tale of two mortal princesses caught in a love triangle, he explores devotion and loss, dedication and betrayal, and the different ways we can love. To hear more about this book, listen to What Should I Read Next episode 27, "Books good enough to make you turn off the tv (even if you love tv)," in which Kendra Adachi names this a lifetime favorite novel.
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