Book Review: Barrington Stoke’s CLASSICS RETOLD by Tanya Landman and Laura Wood

Title in black on parchment

Barrington Stoke, the UK’s specialist in books for dyslexia and reluctant readers, is releasing retellings of the classics that are far more accessible.

I hate the Classics. The way they were taught at school (in short, awfully) means I have this enormous mental block on being able to read them. I just lock up whenever I force myself to try reading one, and then it’s weeks of fighting and hating every minute of it. So I thought I would help myself out by reading these in the hopes that modern, slimmed down versions will mean I finally get to the end.


Book cover for WUTHERING HEIGHTS: title in yellow on blue with line drawing graphics of waving ferns

Of these three, WUTHERING HEIGHTS is the classic I’ve never attempted. It’s never interested me. A gothic kids with toxic relationships who grow up into adults with toxic relationships? Not for me. But Tasha Suri is writing a re-imagining too, and so I probably need to know the original story before then. (Goodreads here.)

I have to say, getting to the end of it, I’m rather glad that I’ve never bothered to read it as all the characters are basically awful – cruel or selfish or ignorant. I would have struggled to get through hundreds of pages of characters who I immensely disliked.

This book is told from Cathy’s perspective (and the fact that the blurb makes a point of this suggests to me that the original has a much less straightforward narrative structure, a la the mess that is Frankenstein’s constant POVs within POVs.) With her as narrator, Heathcliff is hardly around, and when he is, he’s broody (which is not my favourite type of man.)

Those, though, are issues with the original book that make it not for me. I really appreciated something so accessible. It gives the overview of the story in a way that feels like it’s taken the scenes and condensed them down into something straight forward (and stripped of long, internal, tortured monologues, which is something I really hated at school.)

It’s such a good way of making classics accessible, making it about the story – rather than the “prestige” and “properness” of reading the originals.


Book cover for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: title in purple on green with ostrich feathers

I love the BBC adaptation of this book. But the book itself? I have tried three times and struggled each one. By comparison, this retelling was a complete breeze to get through. It’s clear and accessible – I could easily follow what was happening without my attention wandering.

As my knowledge of this story is based on the TV show, I am not confidently able to say how much was kept and how much was trimmed to get a 122k book down into something this slim. However, it felt like it had kept the spirit and overall feel of the show, as well as all the narrative elements I can recall! And I think spirit in a retelling like this is as important as plot – probably more so, because it’s what makes it into an accessible version of the story, rather than a grocery-list recount of the beats.

I believe PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a satire of Georgian courting and the concerns of the gentlefolk. This retelling certainly brings out the silliness of the situation, poking fun at characters like Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins. I was giggling a fair bit at most of their appearances.

JANE EYRE, by Tanya Landman

Book cover for JANE EYRE: title in blue on yellow with flames

Of these three stories, JANE EYRE has the biggest block for me, as we read it at school. I’m hoping this might help ease that block to one day pick up the original again because, on paper, it’s a story that should hold some interest for me. (Goodreads here.)

This is such a lovely retelling, and because I know the original, I could really see how much care had been taken to include as much of the original as possible. It’s is so accessible, but all the main scenes and ideas are there, if just wrapped up in a few pages rather than 10 or 20!

It also really pulls out the Gothicness of the story. In 112 pages there is still all of the strange sounds, the barren landscape, the way people just casually talk about fairies and elves as if they were real. It’s so much more concentrated here, which makes it all the more obvious how creepy it all is. And I like that creepiness in it, it makes it more than just a tale of love and a desperate liar of a man.

Have you read any classics retold?

To read my reviews of other books by the authors, please see La for Tanya Landman and Wo for Laura Wood. For retellings of LITTLE WOMEN and FRANKENSTIEN, please click here.


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