Arifa Akbar: So many books, so little time. So must we recycle the same old stories?

The Week in Books

They say there are only a few core plots in storytelling. It boils down to seven in all, or that's what English literature students were once taught. That's why all adventure yarns begin to resemble Homer's Odyssey when they are stripped to the bone.

It's true that contemporary quest narratives such as, say, Life of Pi begin to look a lot like Odysseus's voyage (specifics such as Royal Bengal Tigers notwithstanding) and Jane Eyre or Pretty Woman look like rehashed Cinderella stories, when their plot structures are isolated. But fiction is judged on so much else – the freshness of its characters, the beauty of its sentences, its intellectual or emotional depth – and these are the elements that make each story discrete and innovative.

Recycling these core plots does not mean that we have to recycle the same old stories. Which is why I have never understood the lure of reimagining a classic for modern times - fiction that duplicates the same plot as well as characters of a canonical novel. Talking of which, Joanna Trollope's reworked Sense and Sensibility is due out in October while Jo Baker's debut, Longbourn, gives us Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants ("If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields").

There is a long tradition in re-imagining classics thus, and it seems mostly to come wrapped in a Austen fixation: HarperCollins commissioned Trollope and five others for 'The Austen Project', which brings all six of her complete novels into the 21st century. Many Austen fans will be curious to see how Trollope will treat the story - what she'll throw out or keep.

This is not the first time she has been reconceived either. Helen Fielding was said to have used Pride and Prejudice as inspiration for Bridget Jones's Diary, and there have been those bizarre offshoots like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. By all accounts, we love these reinventions. Other authors have had the same treatment: Zadie Smith's On Beauty was a "homage" to EM Forster's Howard's End, and Francesca Segal won acclaim for her debut, The Innocents, a retelling of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence set in London's Jewish community.

There is something comforting about hearing the same stories told to us, as reassuring in their ritual retelling as the bedtime stories we liked to hear repeated as children. But don't we have new, more topical stories to tell, and hear? Trollope's book is bound to be fresh: flicking though it I glimpsed talk of sex-kittens and texts, but there are so many books and so little time to read them, and arguably, even less time for a well-known, retweaked classic. Adaptations of all kinds don't always send readers to the original text but gives some a false sense of having done (seeing last year's film adaptation of Great Expectations was not tantamount to reading Dickens, just for the record).

Perhaps we can't leave Austen's oeuvre alone because her preoccupations are still our own. Finding love or a comfortable marriage is no less central to middle-class lives, it would seem, despite the fact that, on the whole, we no longer marry for money and position. Or do we? Austen's popular transposition into the modern age suggests that some of us might do. Some classics can't be reworked yet we get a great deal from them all the same. A modern Anna Karenina would have no cause to throw herself under a train after leaving her husband for her lover. And she would hardly be denied access to her son because of it. Madame Bovary would certainly not perish in a dull marriage, she'd simply have a cinq à sept.

Times might change, but classic literature doesn't always need to.

After Stoner's success, a second quiet classic

Stoner, the 1965 novel by John Williams that has taken the world's book charts by storm, may only be the first in Williams's oeuvre to become a latter-day bestseller. Waterstones is including his last novel, Augustus (which afficionados claim as his best) in its September 'book club'. A sticker will flag up the Stoner connection. Meanwhile, some are hoping for Stoner - the film. Not beyond the realms of possibility, given that Tom Hanks raved about it some years ago. Could he offer his services?

Super library as tourist hotspot?

A ten storey building has recently furnished the skyline of Birmingham. Designed by the smartDutch architects, Mecanoo, the state-of-the-art building look like, from the outside at least, a Tate Modern for the Midlands.

It will open its doors as the city's super library and as the flagship project of the city's 20 year regeneration plan, it is hoped that it will become a "cultural destination". It will house world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books with precious collections kept in a climatically controlled environment. A new gallery will have an exhibitions programme, two garden terraces and, charmingly, even a music rotunda.

At a time when smaller libraries are seeing closures, there is a reassuring symbolism in the opening of this impressive library, as long as the smaller fish aren't killed off elsewhere.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor