The best books that breathe new life into old stories

Maya Slater Author Of Private Diary of Mr. Darcy
By Maya Slater

Who am I?

My passion is the craft of writing—solving the fascinating problems involved in expressing an idea; vocabulary, word order, register, and on and on. I thrive on literary translation, and spent two years translating Moliere’s plays into English verse. I also collaborate with my translator husband, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, on Pasternak, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev. When the idea of writing as Mr. Darcy came to me, I could not resist the lure of writing in Georgian English, but became so absorbed in my narrative that the style almost wrote itself. My professional career was as a university lecturer in French literature (I have written academic books on my favourite French writers, Proust, La Fontaine, and others).


I wrote...

Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

By Maya Slater,

Book cover of Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

What is my book about?

At a lunch party one day, someone asked: what novel would you love to write? I found myself answering, Mr. Darcy’s Diary. Round the table everyone laughed, me included. But the idea, so casually mentioned, wouldn’t leave me. What is going on in Darcy’s head? Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is Elizabeth’s story. Darcy is mostly absent, so I felt free to explore. I was soon making surprising discoveries: the wicked Lord Byron was his closest school friend; rejected by Elizabeth, he proposed to a different girl. And what about the terrible hidden scandal surrounding Wickham? And there was more: I found I was telling a new story, which runs parallel to Pride and Prejudice, only to veer away again on its own, much crazier, journey.

The books I picked & why

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Wide Sargasso Sea

By Jean Rhys,

Book cover of Wide Sargasso Sea

Why this book?

Bertha, the murderous maniac in the attic, scared me out of my skin the first time I read Jane Eyre. Not the most promising subject for a sympathetic imaginary biography, you might think; but Jean Rhys draws on her own Creole youth to create a past for the madwoman, the charming but doomed child Antoinette, who grows into a beautiful young bride. Her exotic and magical island setting glows with lush abundance, but from the first there is a sense of foreboding. Her marriage fails, and the innocent, touching young woman is torn from her adored island, losing her love, her sanity, and even her real name. An extraordinary, perverse, and brilliantly original reinvention.

Wide Sargasso Sea

By Jean Rhys,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Wide Sargasso Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys's return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction's most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed…


The Blue Flower

By Penelope Fitzgerald,

Book cover of The Blue Flower

Why this book?

In real life, the Romantic German poet Novalis (1772-1801) fell in love with Sophia, a girl of 13, his exquisite  ‘blue flower’. In both prose and poetry he exalted their perfect relationship, till her early death shattered his dreams. In Fitzgerald’s chilling novel, Novalis’s idyll becomes a mad, warped obsession as the passionate lover completely loses touch with reality and retreats into his own weird world of introspection, to the dismay of those around him. The object of his adoration is an impassive, deadpan child,  soon grotesquely disfigured by illness, who dies without ever seeming truly alive. The washday scene, with billowing sheets, is a stunning piece of bravura writing. A weird small masterpiece, my favourite of Fitzgerald’s novels.

The Blue Flower

By Penelope Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blue Flower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penelope Fitzgerald's final masterpiece.

One of the ten books - novels, memoirs and one very unusual biography - that make up our Matchbook Classics' series, a stunningly redesigned collection of some of the best loved titles on our backlist.

The year is 1794 and Fritz, passionate, idealistic and brilliant, is seeking his father's permission to announce his engagement to his 'heart's heart', his 'true Philosophy': twelve-year-old Sophie. His astounded family and friends are amused and disturbed by his betrothal. What can he be thinking?

Tracing the dramatic early years of the young German who was to become the great romantic…


The Silence of the Girls

By Pat Barker,

Book cover of The Silence of the Girls

Why this book?

Picture Achilles, the legendary hero, immortalised in Homer’s Iliad, conqueror of the siege of Troy. Now imagine what it must feel like to be a captive girl, handed over to Achilles as a trophy of war. Through the terrified eyes of the young Trojan Queen, Briseis, Barker brings the whole Trojan War to life. Her Achilles is no longer Homer’s half-immortal superman, but a remote, neurotic and expressionless brute who subjects Briseis to degrading days as a slave girl and hateful nightly couplings, but remains cold and impassive, while inwardly seething with his own suppressed insecurities. A vivid evocation of a distant past and a chilling insight into the impact of war on both victors and vanquished, and above all on women.

The Silence of the Girls

By Pat Barker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Silence of the Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A GUARDIAN BEST BOOK OF THE 21ST CENTURY

'Chilling, powerful, audacious' The Times

'Magnificent. You are in the hands of a writer at the height of her powers' Evening Standard

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent - until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all - retold by the witness that history forgot . . .

Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive…


Flashman

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Book cover of Flashman

Why this book?

As a child I loved Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a Victorian novel set in Rugby, the famous boys’ school. One of the best bits was when the brutal, thuggish school bully, Flashman, was unmasked on a drunken spree and expelled. His life after school was chronicled, 100 years later, in MacDonald Frazer’s 12 Flashman novels. Far from being cowed by his disgrace, and despite his abject cowardice, fate helps Flashman to progress brazenly from strength to strength, a heartless manipulator who revels in behaving outrageously and getting away with it, runs through numberless women, and ends up covered in glory, a much-decorated and titled war hero. A shameless romp and a gripping read throughout.

Flashman

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Flashman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For George MacDonald Fraser the bully Flashman was easily the most interesting character in Tom Brown's Schooldays, and imaginative speculation as to what might have happened to him after his expulsion from Rugby School for drunkenness ended in 12 volumes of memoirs in which Sir Harry Paget Flashman - self-confessed scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward -'and, oh yes, a toady' - romps his way through decades of nineteenth-century history in a swashbuckling and often hilarious series of military and amorous adventures. In Flashman the youthful hero, armed with a commission in the 11th Dragoons, is shipped to India, woos and…

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Why this book?

Moscow, 1930s. Satan comes to town with his mischief-making retinue, disrupting the smug, selfish Soviet bourgeoisie, playing wild, surreal tricks. Decapitated heads are (sometimes) put back on necks, shameful secrets exposed to public view, naked witches streak through the streets on flying pigs—chaos reigns. Meanwhile, two other independent plots emerge. First, the Master composes a brilliant but despised novel, and loves the beautiful Margarita. Secondly, the Bible story of Christ’s passion is vividly recreated, as seen by Pontius Pilate, a fallible man who realises that Christ is both innocent and exceptional, but is too weak to prevent his crucifixion: this is the Master’s text. These threads are skilfully woven into a riveting, fantastic, hilarious yet deeply moving whole. One of the greatest 20th-century novels. 

I recommend the version that is translated by Michael Glenny as it is a vivid, imaginative, inventive English translation (just like in the original Russian).

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Master and Margarita as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Bulgakov is one of the greatest Russian writers, perhaps the greatest' Independent

Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalin's reign, The Master and Margarita became an overnight literary phenomenon when it was finally published it, signalling artistic freedom for Russians everywhere. Bulgakov's carnivalesque satire of Soviet life describes how the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow one Spring afternoon. Brimming with magic and incident, it is full of imaginary, historical, terrifying and wonderful characters, from witches, poets and Biblical tyrants to the beautiful, courageous Margarita, who will…


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