GERTRUDE AND CLAUDIUS
By John Updike
This brilliant prequel to Hamlet tells the story of Gertrude’s life before Shakespeare’s play: her marriage to the old King Hamlet, her mothering of young Hamlet, and her affair with Claudius. If you love the original, you’ll appreciate Updike’s pitch-perfect interaction with the characters and story, but if you don’t, you’ll still enjoy it for the vigorous language, psychological complexity, and stark visuals of life in early Denmark.
By Geraldine Brooks
This novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, runs parallel to the narrative of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but focuses instead on the girls’ absent father. Mr. March, a well-intentioned chaplain who has joined up on the Union side of the Civil War, finds his ideals brutally tested in the ugly combat and its aftermath. Brooks’ command of the historical material is outstanding as always, as is her insight into human frailty.
THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY
By Zachary Mason
Mason wrote a series of witty and thought-provoking alternate adventures for the western world’s wiliest hero. In beautiful, riddling prose, Mason plays with Odysseus’ traditional travels and travails, while also imagining several new ones. My favorite is the final book, a virtuosic and gripping deconstruction of storytelling itself.
WIDE SARGASSO SEA
By Jean Rhys
Jean Rhys’ haunting prequel to Jane Eyre is centered around Antoinette, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, who eventually becomes Bertha, the infamous mad woman in the attic. Born in the Caribbean, Antoinette is pressed into marriage with Rochester, and slowly driven mad by loneliness and social constriction. Rhys’ handling of her story is deft, subversive, and deeply moving.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED
By Anne Carson
This gorgeous postmodern retelling of the Heracles and Geryon myth is inspired by fragments from the ancient poet Stesichorus, but the result is pure Carson: gorgeous, startling, unsettling. A beautiful story of love and growing up that stars a little red monster with wings.
Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles, her first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. It has been translated into fourteen languages including German, Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, and Greek.
Read Next: "Betrayal" by Sigrid Nunez