BY Cheryl Till

Classics are classic for a reason – they are the amazing re-readable stories that imprint themselves in our memory and never tire of being retold.

Even so, actually having to read the book that originated a story you’re already so familiar with doesn’t always appeal to everyone… After all, you already know how it’s going to end, right?

Instead of bothering with old news, here are a couple books that put a great modern twist on classic tales.


The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

The first of the Canongate Myth Series - a series of books by contemporary authors who reimagine ancient myths - Atwood’s novella puts a modern spin on Homer’s Odyssey, retelling the story from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Recounting her life through the benefit of hindsight as Penelope roams through the Underworld, The Penelopiad puts a feminised slant on a re-evaluated account of the hanging of Penelope’s twelve maids.

If you are familiar with the Odyssey, The Penelopiad is a clever and interesting new look into Penelope’s story from a female perspective. However, for anyone less brushed up on the Greek classics, Atwood’s characters are confusing and rather underdeveloped. The prose is beautifully written and at times offers great insight. But the train-of-thought tangents of recount also grows tiresome at some points, distracting from an otherwise page-turning plot. The point of Atwood’s reimaginations is also a little unclear from her writing alone, as her musings through Penelope’s voice turns to whinging about a third of the way in, detracting from the profound atmosphere Atwood is trying to establish.

For those new to either Atwood, or Homer’s Odyssey, this is not the best place to start. But otherwise, for the narrow audience that already enjoys both Atwood’s prosaic style and has a good grip on Greek mythology, this book is a rather interesting retelling of an old tale, that skilfully incorporates feminist undertones to bring this story into the 21st Century.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The story of Cinderella has been retold a countless number of times in a variety of different ways. Yet Cinder still manages to convey an extraordinarily original plot that also encompasses all the classic elements of the fairy-tale. The first of five YA books from The Lunar Chronicles - a dystopian sci-fi series with each book based on a different fairy-tale - Cinder explores the story of a young teenage cyborg in New Beijing who has to fight villains from space in order to protect her post-WW4 Earth.

The premise of the novel seems kind of ridiculous, but the backstory is solid and the cyberpunk plot is exceptionally entertaining, if a little predictable. Being aimed at a younger audience, Meyer’s writing style isn’t particularly remarkable, although her concept is much more original and enticing than other recent YA dystopian series. The only real flaw with this book is that it dithers a bit, getting to the conclusion long after all the elements needed to resolve the central conflict have been introduced. But being a rather rapid read, overall the novel doesn’t drag on too much.

Although the story is loosely based on Cinderella, it doesn’t actually need the fairy-tale elements to drive the plot. Likewise, despite being followed up with four more books, Cinder actually works rather well as a stand-alone read.

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