Jane Austen has been the gift that keeps on giving—for authors, movie producers, and Colin Firth fans—for ages now. From modern day retellings, to spinoff books that focus on her tertiary characters, to mashups featuring zombies, Austen’s novels have been adapted, updated, and otherwise celebrated to within an inch of their robust lives, and fans still can’t get enough of her elegant, incisive, deeply romantic comedies of manners. Below are a few can’t-miss recent favorites for lovers of all things Austen.
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
To our delight, bestseller Sittenfeld, best known for Prep and American Wife, has updated Austen’s seminal novel, Pride and Prejudice, for The Austen Project. Her story centers on thirtysomething New York City magazine writer Liz, who returns home to Cincinnati along with her sister, Jane, when their father falls ill. Their sprawling Tudor is a mess, their younger sisters still live at home, and Mama Bennett is bent on marrying off at least some of her five daughters, each a modern disaster in her own way. The distraction and romantic catalyst here is the arrival of hot doctor Chip Bingley, fresh off a Bachelor-esque reality show, dragging his awkward pal, gifted surgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, along for the ride. Sittenfeld’s retell is an utter treat, both for Austen aficionados and fans of a modern love story well told. (Austen Project devotees should also look for Val McDermid’s enchanting Northanger Abbey reboot, and Joanna Trollope’s deft update of Sense and Sensibility.)
Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith
Make room on your shelf for another charming entry in The Austen Project. In McCall Smith’s adaptation of Emma (which, if we’re talking successful modern adaptations, already has Clueless‘s strappy platform wedges to fill), Emma Woodhouse is an interior designer, her homebody father is a germaphobe, and protegé Harriet Smith is the naive daughter of a single mother and a sperm donor. McCall Smith brilliantly revives Austen’s talent for smart social commentary and ear for the ridiculous, with fun modern touches that will delight fans of both authors.
Austenland, by Shannon Hale
If a Jane Austen theme park sounds like an ideal vacation destination, Austenland should be next on your to-read list. The protagonist, a woman named Jane, is so obsessed with Jane Austen (particularly with one Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; a crush I’m pretty sure she shares with 98% of the natural world, but anyway) that she decides that a trip to The Austenest Place on Earth is her only hope: It will either cure her of her obsession through sheer overkill, or give her a shot at making all her Regency-era dreams come true. Yes, this was also made into a movie, yes, it stars Keri Russell, and yes, it is also amazing.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Just think, a book about our favorite Austen heroine—only this time she has a katana and serious bloodlust! There’s something inherently hilarious about the juxtaposition of the petticoats and fainting couches of 19th-century England with scenes of zombies having their heads chopped off like it’s no big deal. And, of course, there’s the timeless argument of carrying a musket because it’s just plain practical vs. not carrying one in order to appear more ladylike. You’ll find the same characters you loved in the original novel, and the same general story bones, except with zombies and ninjas. You really can’t go wrong here (unless you’re bad with a katana).
Longbourn, by Jo Baker
A stunning novel with an irresistible premise, Longbourn takes on the previously invisible “downstairs” half of the Bennet estate, including housemaid Sarah, who yearns for change to come to Longbourn. Beginning, as did Pride and Prejudice, with the arrival of Mr. Bingley, the book’s narrative intersects with Austen’s original in ingenious ways—Sarah glimpses the ball at Netherfield from the chilly yard, where she shares a stolen moment with a handsome footman, and she eventually follows Elizabeth to Pemberley, where P&P fans will thrill at glimpses of her and Darcy’s married life. Though the servants’ story takes center stage (and it’s well worth telling), part of the book’s pleasure is the way that Austen’s original characters are given new depth, when seen from another angle. Good news for fans who can’t help but picture this story on the big screen: the film adaptation has a 2017 release date.