Two Sides to Every Story

I am a firm believer in the idea that there is always (at least) two sides to every story, which is why I am a fan of the parallel novel. Also referred to as the reimagined classic, a parallel novel is based on another author’s work, typically a literary classic. While not always truly “parallel”  (i.e. the parallel novel taking place in the same exact time period as the original), the parallel novel can develop subplots, detail a minor character’s backstory, or retell the original author’s story from a completely different point of view. Jan Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which prequels Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), was my first experience with a parallel novel. Rhys developed her novel around the life of Brontë’s madwoman in the attic; a character we learn very little about in Jane Eyre. A more recent example of the parallel novel (which happens to be the recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction) is Geraldine Brooks’ March (2005). Brooks’ novel provides a voice for the father, who is away to serve as a chaplain for the Union Army, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868, 1869). When done well, the parallel novel stands alone as a wonderful read but it can also give a reader the opportunity to revisit a favorite classic novel with new eyes.

Coming in March of 2014, Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego, Edward Hyde (from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886), will finally get to tell his side of the story in Daniel Levine’s Hyde. In the meantime, check out these recommended parallel novels available from our collection:

Havisham (2013) by Ronald Frame.

Before she became the immortal and haunting Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, she was Catherine, a young woman with all of her dreams ahead of her. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall--HAVISHAM--a reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business. Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family's new money. But for all her growing sophistication, Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything--her heart, her future, the very Havisham name--is vulnerable. In Havisham, Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham and cursed her to a life alone, roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have. A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013

Longbourn (2013) by Jo Baker.

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story - "If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants' hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen's classic--into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars--and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. [From the Hardcover edition.]

The Looking Glass Wars (2005) by Frank Beddor.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous Aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss’ parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

The Penelopiad (2005) by Margaret Atwood.

“Homer’’s Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local -- a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope’’s parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumors circulating about her. I’’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey does not hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.” -- from Margaret Atwood’’s Foreword to The Penelopiad

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) by Gregory Maguire

Following the traditions of Gabriel García Marquez, John Gardner and J.R.R. Tolkien, Wicked is a richly woven tale that takes us to the other, darker side of the rainbow as novelist Gregory Maguire chronicles the Wicked Witch of the West's odyssey through the complex world of Oz -- where people call you wicked if you tell the truth. Years before Dorothy and her dog crash-land, another little girl makes her presence known in Oz. This girl, Elphaba, is born with emerald-green skin -- no easy burden in a land as mean and poor as Oz, where superstition and magic are not strong enough to explain or to overcome the natural disasters of flood and famine. But Elphaba is smart, and by the time she enters the university in Shiz, she becomes a member of a charmed circle of Oz' most promising young citizens. Elphaba's Oz is no utopia. The Wizard's secret police are everywhere. Animals -- those creatures with voices, souls and minds -- are threatened with exile. Young Elphaba, green and wild and misunderstood, is determined to protect the Animals -- even it means combating the mysterious Wizard, even if it means risking her single chance at romance. Even wiser in guilt and sorrow, she can find herself grateful when the world declares her a witch. And she can even make herself glad for that young girl from Kansas. In Wicked, Gregory Maguire has taken the largely unknown world of Oz and populated it with the power of his own imagination. Fast-paced, fantastically real and supremely entertaining, this is a novel of vision and re-vision. Oz never will be the same again.

- Anna V.


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