When a modern author writes a sequel or prequel to a famous classic book you love, are you in the front of the line to read it? Are you eager, or reluctant, to see what a present day author creates from a favourite old novel? I admit being one who has been slow to be won over; I ask, how can anyone other than the original author write a book that equals, say, Pride and Prejudice or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Thankfully, I stopped being a snob about it—there are authors with great imagination and skill who have written some wonderful and compelling stories inspired by those original tales. Here are five titles I recently finished. And loved.
Death Comes to Pemberley is the 2011 novel by British mystery fiction author, P.D. James. The book is a sequel of sorts; Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are now wed and living at Pemberley. Things aren't quite so 'happy ever after'—Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are about to host a grand autumn ball and then a body is discovered in the nearby woods. I love how the author skillfully weaves threads of the original Austen novel throughout her own well-told Regency murder mystery. I really enjoyed it.
Longbourn, the 2013 novel by British author Jo Baker, gives the reader a chance to see an alternative view of the Pride and Prejudice story as seen through the eyes of the family servants. While the Bennet family lives their story upstairs exactly as told by Jane Austen, their servants downstairs—barely visible characters till now—suddenly come alive in our imagination. They take centre stage, and we begin to see them as living, breathing people with names like Sarah and James who have their own hopes, dreams, and sorrows. I had a hard time putting this book down.
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow was published in 2020. In this imaginative novel, the author focuses on plain and nerdy middle sister, Mary Bennet, and sets her in the limelight as the novel's heroine. I soon came to empathize with Mary as she struggled to find happiness and fulfillment in a world that basically ignored her. From the first page I was drawn in, reading every chance I could, even well into the night a couple of days, because I had to know - does Mary find her life, and love? Well worth reading.
I found it an altogether enriching experience to read these three novels alongside Jane Austen's. I think the authors did a great job of entwining the old and new story lines into one.
If you enjoyed L.M. Montgomery's 1908 Anne of Green Gables:
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, published in 2018, lets us imagine Marilla Cuthbert's young life at Green Gables long before Anne enters the picture. She gives the reader a wider look into Marilla's world, picking up threads dropped by Miss Montgomery in the Anne books, including how and why Marilla never married John Blythe, who was once considered her beau. It's a charming tale and fits perfectly as a prequel to the well-loved Anne stories. Delightful and a bit wistful, I'm glad I read it.
If you are charmed by C.S. Lewis's 1950 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan was published in 2021. If you love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will enjoy this charming tale in which college student Megs Devonshire tries to fulfill her younger brother George's last wish to discover the truth about his favourite Narnia story. Beautifully imagined, charmingly told, this is a book you might want to save for the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'll be re-reading it this holiday season.