10 modern books, done Shakespeare's style

  • Books
  • Saturday, 23 Apr 2016

Young readers may wonder why Hamlet didn’t get a CSI team to investigate his dad’s murder.

One of the reason’s Shakespeare’s works have survived so long is that they have universal themes, all the big ones like love, betrayal and death, that still resonate with any human being today. The settings of his tales, though, are a tad dated, no? Very few people hang out in garden bowers or go to courtly balls any more....

These ancient settings, the antiquated language and plot devices, may affect modern readers’ appreciation of the Bard. Young readers especially, who may wonder why Juliet didn’t just Whatsapp Romeo to tell him she wasn’t dead, or why Hamlet didn’t get a CSI team to investigate his dad’s murder....

Which is why contemporary retellings are always welcome, to give readers perspective and understanding about Shakespeare’s grand works. Publishers Hogarth Press, for example, have launched the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which acclaimed modern novelists such as Ann Tyler, Gillian Flynn and Margaret Atwood adapt Shakespeare for the modern day.

Works published under the project so far are Jeanette Williamson’s A Gap In Time (a retelling of A Winter’s Tale) and Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (Merchant Of Venice).

Of course, other authors have adapted the Bard over the years. Here are 10 we’ve found for you, each based on and inspired by a different play:

A Thousand Acres (1991; based on King Lear)

Author: Jane Smiley 


Set on a farm in Iowa, A Thousand Acres is the story of Larry Cook, who decides to hand joint ownership of his farm to his three daughters, Ginny, Rose and Caroline. When the youngest daughter objects, she is removed from the agreement. This sets off a chain of events that bring dark truths to light, and explode long-suppressed emotions that threaten to destroy the family forever. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992, and was turned into a feature film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange.

Come Like Shadows (1993; inspired by Macbeth)

Author: Welwyn Wilton Katz 


In this young adult (YA) fiction take on the “Scottish play” (as Macbeth is famously known), 16-year-old Kinny lands a dream job at the famed Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario, Canada, assisting in a summer production of Macbeth. But things turn nightmarish when the head witch is killed during rehearsal. Is the Scottish play really cursed? An antique prop mirror seems to have a hold on Kinny and bad luck continues as the show tours Scotland. There, Kinny must face a magical threat as old as the country itself.

Rani And Sukh (2004; based on Romeo And Juliet)

Author: Bali Rai 


In 1950s Punjab, a secret affair goes horribly wrong, and a bride commits suicide after her lover is attacked by her family. Both families part in violence and conflict. In 2004 Leicester, however, Rani Sandhu and Sukh Bains fall in love, unaware of the terrible legacy of the past and the conflict between their families. Will these young lovers be able to break the cycle of violence? Author Rai, himself raised as a working class Punjabi in Leicester in Britain, creates a vivid and fast-moving take on the Bard’s tragedy, explored through the experiences of young urban British Asians.

The Madness Of Love (2005; based on Twelfth Night)

Author: Katherine Davies 


This comic novel focuses on the interconnected lives of a whimsical cast of characters. Valentina, a clerk in a London bookstore, is still bitter after her twin brother broke a childhood promise and ran off to exotic lands without her. She cuts her hair and masquerades as a gardener to the melancholic Leo. Leo dreams of restoring his estate’s gardens to their former glory as a romantic gesture to the woman he’s loved all his life: Melody, a beautiful English teacher.

Something Rotten (2007; based on Hamlet)

Author: Alan Gratz 


Hamilton Prince’s father has been just murdered, according to a hidden video message Hamilton discovers. He and his best friend Horatio Wilkes (who is just a secondary school student!) must find the villain before he strikes again! Suspects include Olivia Mendelssohn, a dedicated environmentalist (and Hamilton’s ex!); Hamilton’s mother Trudy, who has just married her husband’s brother; and Ford N. Braff, a media mogul who wants to buy the Princes’ business.

Exposure (2008; inspired by Othello)

Author: Mal Peet 


Otello (yes, that’s how he spells his name, people) is a star South American soccer player. He’s signed a deal to play for a team in the southern part of his country, in a region with a history of racism toward black northerners like him. Desmerelda is a white pop star and the daughter of a right-wing politician. Their marriage propels them onto centre stage, where they burn under the media spotlight. But celebrity attracts enemies – some very close to home. Exposure won the 2009 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (yes, strangely, this is classified as “children’s fiction”). And according to British literacy NGO Book Trust, Peet was inspired to write the novel when he realised some of Shakespeare’s character’s names sounded like football players’ names!

Confessions Of A Triple Shot Betty (2008; based on Much Ado About Nothing)

Author: Jody Gehrman 


Geena has high hopes for the summer: she is working with her two best friends, the wild Amber and the shy Hero, at the Triple Shot Betty coffee shop. Unfortunately, both Amber and Hero hate each other when they meet for the first time. And then things become even more complicated when some gorgeous guys appear. Amber falls for town golden boy John. But John likes Hero, who in turn falls for foreign exchange student Claudio. Geena, however, is stuck with her rival Ben, who she hates. It’s Shakespearian chick lit!

The Loser’s Guide To Life And Love (2008; based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Author: Ann Edwards Cannon 


Ordinary, boring Ed works a summer job in a DVD shop. He’s so unappreciated there that he doesn’t even have his own name tag – he’s stuck with one reading “Sergio” until his boss can be bothered to make a new one! He enjoys spending time with his best friends Scout (who secretly likes him!) and Quark (who likes Scout!). Things turn crazy, however, when Ed meets Ellie, the girl of his dreams, who somehow mistakes him for a Brazilian stud. Can he keep up being Sergio or will things all fall apart?

Tempestuous (2012; based on The Tempest)

Authors: Kim Askew & Amy Helmes 


Recently banished by the school’s popular crowd, former It girl Miranda Prospero finds herself in a brave new world of geeks and misfits working at the Hot-Dog Kabob in the food court of her local mall. One night, the worst winter storm of the season has everyone snowed-in and trapped in the mall. Miranda seizes the opportunity to get revenge against the clique behind her social exile, with help from her dorky coworker Ariel and sullen loner Caleb.

Exit, Pursued By A Bear (2016; based on A Winter’s Tale)

Author: E.K. Johnston 


In every (cliched American) class, there’s the star cheerleader and the pregnant girl who’s a pariah. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione Winters is captain of a cheerleading team, which is the pride and joy of her small town, Palermo Heights. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. Fade to black.... Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had, and has to make a heart-wrenching decision about how to move on.

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