Happy birthday Jane Austen!
My favourite author was born on this day in 1775, and in her honour I’ll surely be picking up one of her novels – but, seeing as there are only six full novels by Austen (next on my list of rereads of Jane Austen books in order is Mansfield Park – see my previous posts on Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice), pretty soon you’ve finished, read all the rest of her writings, and you’re searching for something else to feed your appetite.
Maybe you want a Jane Austen retelling? Or a book directly inspired by Austen’s work? Or perhaps you just want something that gives you the same kind of feelings as reading an Austen novel?
Well, here are my twenty-five picks that I recommend across those three categories. Also coming soon are my recommendations of books to read about Jane Austen… so stay tuned for that!
Here is my list of the books you need to read if you like Jane Austen:
Austen adaptations and retellings
My friends joke that this is a genre in itself to me, and one I devour completely. I love a modern retelling of Jane Austen – if not for anything else than they resoundingly prove how timeless a lot of her plots, social satire and commentary are. If you’ve already read Bridget Jones’ Diary (which I still love despite quite a few things about it not aging particularly well… Bridget being considered ‘overweight’, for example), here are some fabulous retellings that really do show the resonance of Austen’s work.
Ibi Zoboi, Pride – This is one of the best updates of Pride and Prejudice I’ve ever read – Zuri Benitez is a Brooklyn teenager who is proud of her Afro-Latino roots, her family and her neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is being gentrified, which becomes no more obvious than when the rich Darcy family moves in across from her house. Cue first loves, applying to college, keeping her wild sisters in check…
Uzma Jalaluddin, Ayesha at Last – Jalaluddin’s modern day Muslim Pride and Prejudice takes us to Toronto, and the life of Ayesha Shamsi, who harbours dreams of being a poet, but is instead stuck working as a teacher. Khalid is our Darcy character – conservative and judgemental, but Ayesha can’t help but be attracted to, but his family comes with scandalous rumours, and it’s up to Ayesha to try and figure it all out.
Sonali Dev, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors – Sonali Dev is writing a whole series about the Indian American Raje family based on Austen’s novels, and this is the first one – it is SO good! Dr Trisha Raje is a neurosurgeon in San Francisco, and the only surgeon who can save the life of chef DJ Caine’s sister. Of course Trisha and DJ keep clashing… and we all know where this is going… I am so excited to read the other books in the series!
Brigid Coady, Persuading Austen – a fun romance novel based on, you guessed it, Persuasion (my second favourite Austen novel!). Annie Elliot gets a job as a producer on a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which should be fun. Except when who is cast as Mr Darcy, but her ex, Austen Wentworth…
Mahesh Rao, Polite Society – Austen’s Emma is taken to Delhi’s polite society with the handsome, clever and rich Ania Khurana. Increasingly bored, Ania takes under her wing her sweet friend Dimple with matchmaking and conquering society in mind… but of course, she can’t control the movements of everybody, and she especially can’t control or work out her feelings for her childhood friend Dev.
Val McDermid, Northanger Abbey – part of The Austen Project (why oh why was this project never finished?), Val McDermid takes Austen’s gothic satire and brings it into the twenty-first century. Instead of going to the social hub of Bath, our modern heroine, Cat Morland, is invited to join family friends the Allens as their guest to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Here, Cat falls into the path of the vivacious Bella Thorpe, the handsome lawyer Henry Tilney and his lovely sister Eleanor…
Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable – subtitled Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan, Kamal’s novel follows Alys Binat, an English Literature teacher, and Valentine Darsee, handsome but haughty, whom Alys meets at a huge wedding. Witty and heartwarming, I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to hopefully more books by Kamal!
Melissa Nathan, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field / Acting Up – Later renamed Acting Up, Melissa Nathan’s novel follows a one-night-and-one-night-only charity performance of Pride and Prejudice. Jasmine Field is a columnist assigned to the role of Elizabeth Bennet, and of course, her Mr Darcy had to be the Academy-Award-winning Harry Noble. Life imitates art in this retelling, which is just so funny and romantic.
Katie Oliver, What would Lizzy Bennet do? – Katie Oliver is a huge Jane Austen fan who has written many novels based on Austen and her work. They are all very fun, and this one is a little bit of a mash-up between Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, with Lizzy Bennet having to confront her old love interest, Hugh Darcy, when he returns home to his estate amid a film crew shooting an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice… more film adaptations within these novel adaptations!
Austen-inspired and sequels
Probably pretty similar to the previous category – and let’s be real, some of these definitely echo the romances and circumstances of the six Austen novels within their characters – but these ones I would say are more inspired by Austen, or even feature her as a character. Most of them have a protagonist obsessed with Austen – not something I can relate to… not at all…
Natalie Jenner, The Jane Austen Society – this is a joy of a book that fictionalises the events involved in opening up Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton in Hampshire. I was lucky enough to have a review copy, so read my full review here.
Carrie Kablean, What Kitty Did Next – I always think that, much like Mary (and I have a few novels that follow her progress in my “to read” pile!), Kitty Bennet gets dealt a bit of a poor lot in Pride and Prejudice, seemingly easily led by her younger sister Lydia. Kablean’s novel is a sequel that gives Kitty her time to shine, spending time with her two eldest sisters between London and their country estates and making her own way in society.
Kate Riordan, Sanditon – a tie-in novel to Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Austen’s incomplete novel, set at the fictional seaside resort town of Sanditon, Riordan follows the heroine Charlotte Heywood beyond Austen’s brilliant beginning. Again, I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, so read my full blog on this novel here.
Shannon Hale, Austenland – A charming Austen-obsessed New Yorker, Jane Hayes, is convinced no man can ever measure up to her dream of Mr Darcy. This is truly put to the test when she is sent, courtesy of a gift from a wealthy relative, to a resort for Austen fans. Full of actors ready to feed into the visitors’ Austen fantasies, Jane is suddenly immersed in the world she has dreamed of for so long. If you’ve seen the film, the book is just as good, if not better.
Fiona Woodifield, The Jane Austen Dating Agency – this book is so fun and perfect for curling up with a cup of tea, or glass of wine, in the long winter evenings. Sophie Johnson is overworked, underpaid, and desperate to find her very own Mr Darcy – so surely joining the Jane Austen Dating Agency is the answer to all her prayers? Woodifield gives the reader great Mr Darcy and Wickham characters for Sophie to choose between!
Jane Odiwe, Project Darcy – Jane Odiwe’s charming novels all have a sparkle of Jane Austen in them. Project Darcy follows Ellie Bentley as she joins an archeological dig at Jane Austen’s childhood home… where she runs into the ghost of Mr Darcy, who helps her travel into the past of Steventon. Facts meet fiction as Ellie gets to see Jane and Tom Lefroy together, and imagine how Pride and Prejudice really came to be.
Alexandra Potter, Me and Mr Darcy – similarly to Odiwe’s ghost of Mr Darcy above, Alexandra Potter’s heroine, Emily Albright, finds herself confronted by Austen’s best-loved romantic hero when she embarks upon a tour of Jane Austen country. Super charming and it’s always nice to imagine what might happen if we ran into our favourite literary love!
Jane Odiwe, Jane Austen Lives Again – I HAD to include this. The premise is so imaginative and charming and fun – imagine if Jane Austen’s doctor, in 1817, discovered the secret to eternal life. Austen wakes up in 1925 – and she’s now a governess to a family of five daughters (hello Bennet vibes!) who are part of an eccentric family living in a crumbling castle by the sea (hello I Capture the Castle vibes!). Of course Jane becomes involved in the lives of every family member, and there’s a suitor for Jane along the way too. It’s bright and unusual and brilliantly written!
In the spirit of Austen
I love these authors and books, and some of them really give me the same feelings as reading an Austen novel, even though the time periods, the plots, the places can be wildly different. Family, friendship, circumstances and society all come together in these, and I think they are wonderful, thought-provoking, and they stayed with me, just like those six wonderful Austen novels.
Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets – this is one of my absolute FAVOURITE books in the whole world. Set in 1950s London, Penelope is the daughter of a classic asset-rich, cash poor mother who was a famous beauty, but is trapped in the ancestral family home in the country that is crumbling to pieces. By chance, Penelope makes a new friend Charlotte, who, along with her brother Harry, turns her world upside down. Friendship, family and society all intertwine in this book with lots of romance and references to Elvis and Johnnie Ray.
Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels – Ferrante’s four novels focus on the friendship between Elena and Raffaella from being very young children to adults as they create lives for themselves in a poor area of Naples. They first meet in the 1950s, and Ferrante explores the expectations laid upon the two girls at they grow up, in terms of family, education and the circumstances shaped by their poor neighbourhood.
Ruth Hogan, The Keeper of Lost Things – so this might seem like an odd choice (particularly as Austen never really wrote with much description about things or interiors in her novels unless they were integral to the plot), but the connections between the characters in this novel, who build their own little community, show the importance of human relationships. Laura’s employer, Anthony, is an old man committed to saving lost objects, and he bequeaths his unfinished mission to Laura: reunite the objects with their owners. I cried and I loved how joyful and optimistic this novel was.
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle – the Mortmains are a bohemian family living in a decaying castle in 1930s England, having to resort to selling off the furniture to buy food. Cassandra is the younger daughter who journals their experiences, her older sister Rose’s search for a wealthy husband to take her out of genteel poverty – Rose even comments to Cassandra at one point she wishes she lived in a Jane Austen novel. This novel is full of strong female relationships and family dynamics, romance and the searching for place and stability.
Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – written in letters, this novel is set after the occupation of Guernsey during World War Two, that shows the profound connections that grow between people through a love of reading. Juliet Ashton is a writer who receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey resident, who now owns her copy of Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia. Through their correspondence, Juliet learns of a book club started on the island during the German occupation as a cover for residents breaking curfew, and travels to learn more about it as she tries to write an article about the benefits of books. Lots of romance, friendship and interesting characters come together in this novel! This novel is co-authored by Shaffer’s niece, Annie Barrows, who had to finish the editing and rewriting after Shaffer passed away.
Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune – I’ve waxed lyrical before on my love of Isabel Allende, who brings characters and places to life in a way like no other writer. Daughter of Fortune is a saga of family and love – real and imagined. I’ve always thought of Allende’s novel in the same way as Pride and Prejudice because of the whole exploration between real and imagined love with Wickham and Darcy for Elizabeth Bennet, which unfolds in a similar way for Allende’s heroine Eliza (fun fact: I wrote some high school English Literature coursework on this). I’ve written more about my love for this book and Allende here.
Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy – I couldn’t write a list of books to read if you like Austen and not include Heyer. A queen of Regency romance, I need to read more of her novels, but I greatly enjoyed this one. Sophy is an unconventional woman in Regency England who is sent to live with her cousins – and takes it upon herself to use her independence and wit to try and solve all of their problems. Of course, there is a dashing hero for her – would it be a Regency romance if there wasn’t?
Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn – perhaps again an unusual choice for the list, but Brooklyn spotlights the experience of a young woman who is sent from her native Ireland to New York in order to have better opportunities than those her family can give her. There are two love interests that frame the pull between home and New York, and it’s a coming of age story like no other.
Now I’ve gone mad with power recommending Austen-related things, stay tuned for my future post on non-fiction books to read if you like Jane Austen, and, perhaps even one about my favourite Austen adaptations… please indulge me, it is nearly Christmas after all!