In my 2016 Reading Challenge (posted on January 4), I suggested that readers read a contemporary novel inspired by a classic. Here are some suggestions of novels which take characters from well-known fiction. Young Adult fiction often uses plots and characters from classics and modernizes them, but I’m focusing on books written primarily for adults.
Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, has Scarlett traveling to Charleston to visit estranged husband Rhett Butler's family, and then going to Savannah and Ireland.
Cosette by Francois Ceresa, a sequel to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, follows Jean Valjean's adopted daughter Cosette and her marriage to Marius, who is dissatisfied with life and proves to be a less than model husband.
March by Geraldine Brooks, a companion to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, tells the story of the March family patriarch and his experiences during the Civil War as his wife and four daughters wait at home.
60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by John David California follows a man named "Mr. C" - who seems to be J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield - as he escapes from a nursing home. (This book was the subject of a court case when author Salinger sued the author. The American judge said the book was too close to The Catcher in the Rye, and currently it is banned from being sold in North America. The judge ruled that neither the author nor anyone who publishes the book can mention The Catcher in the Rye in connection to the book.)
The Innocents by Francesca Segal re-imagines Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Scandal-ridden 1870s New York is replaced by a tight-knit Jewish community in modern day London.
A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck imagines the relationship between Frankenstein’s monster and Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, if she had met him as a small child, intertwining the musings of the monster on his own life with Shelley’s own fictionalized letters, and allowing him to watch his own legacy up to the present.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham is based not only on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, but also the life of Virginia Woolf herself. The novel follows three generations of women: Woolf as she writes the book, struggling with mental illness; Mrs. Brown, a WWII wife in 1949; and Clarissa Vaughan, a contemporary woman whose best friend is dying from AIDS. All three are affected by and also parallel Mrs. Dalloway herself.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith is a modification of Jane Austen's Emma, wherein a recent college grad spends the summer flexing her advice and matchmaking skills to varying degrees of success.
Great by Sara Benincasa is an all-female version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Brazil by John Updike, a re-interpretation of Tristan and Isolde, is set in Brazil. A boy from a Rio slum falls in love with a white girl from a privileged family and together they must flee into the far-reaching jungles in order to escape her family's judgment.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has inspired spinoffs:
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a prequel which explains the madness of Mrs. Rochester.
Re: Jane by Patricia Park imagines Jane Eyre as a half-Korean, half-American orphan living in New York and working as an au pair for a Brooklyn professor.
Jane by April Lindner has Jane Moore taking a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesay transports Charlotte Brontë's heroine to Scotland in the 1950s and ‘60s, resurrecting the themes of Jane Eyre, as well as adding autobiographical elements of the author’s life.
Dorian by Will Self modernizes Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray tries to work as a model in the looks-obsessed art scene of London.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith can be seen as a companion piece to E. M. Forster’s Howards End with the same basic plotline about a pair of families with very different ideals that become irrevocably linked over the years.
Solsbury Hill by Susan M. Wyler re-imagines Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. An American woman is decamped to the moors of England to settle an estate and is subsequently pulled between two very different men.
Heathcliff by Jeffrey Caine imagines what happened to Heathcliff when he disappeared from Wuthering Heights.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has inspired numerous novels. Here are four of them:
Longbourn by Jo Baker has the servants taking centre-stage in this downstairs answer to the classic.
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is a modern spin on the book. Elizabeth Bennett is re-imagined as the hapless Bridget Jones who has numerous trials and tribulations - and a Mr. Darcy.
Pemberley by Emma Tennant is a sequel in which the original characters are brought back to life and in which their pasts catch up with them.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James has Elizabeth and Darcy solving a murder mystery.
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jetter Naslund is narrated by Una, the wife of the captain of the Pequod mentioned in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin tells the story of Lavinia, Aeneas’ second wife in Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid.
Grendel by John Gardner has the first monster in English literature, from the epic Beowulf, tell his side of the story.
Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton is a variation on the Beowulf tale from the perspective of a contemporary reporter, an Arab man who traveled with a group of Vikings.
Foe by J M Coetzee reimagines Daniel DeFoe's classic novel Robinson Crusoe.
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin is told from the perspective of the dutiful and intelligent housemaid in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Gregory Maguire has written four novels based on The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum beginning with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
After Alice by Gregory Maguire is a new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Ada, a friend of Alice’s, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself. She embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home.
Note: I have not included titles inspired by Shakespeare since I discussed these in my entry of September 1, 2015 in which I listed over 20 titles. (And for the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, there is The Hogarth Shakespeare initiative which will be publishing modern re-tellings of Shakespeare’s plays - adaptations written by well-known contemporary authors ; I discussed these in my blog on October 10, 2015.)