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Love reading the classics? Here are some contemporary equivalents to get stuck into

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'Classic' literature often seems quite distant from the literature coming out today, but some contemporary novels are actually very similar to the classics we study in school.

If you enjoy these books, but would also like to read similar books from recent years, here are some recommendations based on a few popular classics.

If you love The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), read Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (2008). 

The Great Gatsby is highly regarded as a classic American novel and is beloved by many.  It follows Nick Carraway as he meets and discovers the past of the mysterious Jay Gatsby, told through Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose.

Netherland follows Hans van den Broek, a Dutchman living in New York following the 9/11 attacks and an estrangement from his wife and son. While there, he meets an unlikely friend in Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian who is working toward making cricket a bigger part of New York and American culture.

The novels share many of the same themes, namely idealism and the overarching idea of the American dream. The relationship between Hans and Chuck mirrors that of Nick and Gatsby, while the game of cricket steps into Daisy’s role as Chuck’s object of affection (and obsession).

O’Neill’s prose is very similar to Fitzgerald’s and his use of retrospection would fit perfectly into The Great Gatsby. The idea of the American dream is revisited, but this time through the eyes of immigrants, giving a different perspective.

If you love Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969), read 10:04 by Ben Lerner (2014). 

Slaughterhouse Five revolves around Billy Pilgrim, who fought in the Second World War and travels through time in the aftermath. Billy’s world is fascinating and thought provoking, but one really interesting aspect of the novel is the role of the Vonnegut himself, who puts himself into the narrator role.

The first and last chapters are Vonnegut’s point of view and he makes a few appearances throughout the middle. The main event that the story revolves around is the bombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut actually lived through. When Billy is in Dresden, he comes across a man who is revealed to be Vonnegut—“That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.” The presence of Vonnegut, a very real person, grounds this time travelling work closer to reality.

Lerner also places himself into his work of fiction in 10:04, becoming the protagonist of the story. 10:04 follows the character of Ben, a writer from New York City, who has just been diagnosed with a heart condition and is being asked by his best friend to platonically conceive a child together.

Readers follow his path to writing a second novel, while they are actually reading what came to be Lerner’s second novel. Lerner plays with metafiction flawlessly so that reality and fiction become indistinguishable. As with Vonnegut, the role of the author is so deeply ingrained into the story, that the reader will hardly notice being too wrapped up in the world these authors have created.

If you love Pride and Prejudice (1813) or any other work by Jane Austen, read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011).

Pride and Prejudice tells the well-known story of how Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy come together after many trials and tribulations. The literary trope of the marriage plot is the basis for all of Austen’s novels. When Austen was writing, all women were expected to marry and it was a priority for parents to find husbands for their daughters. 

A book revolving around the marriage plot is quite rare in contemporary literature, but can be found with Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. The heroine of this novel is Madeleine Hanna, a graduating student from Brown University, who writes her thesis on the trope of the marriage plot. She seeks out novels from Austen and George Eliot because of her fascination with this trope. Her life begins to reflect the plot elements of any Austen novel, resulting in an entertaining and clever novel with a heroine who is just as likeable and worthy of readers’ compassion as any of Austen’s characters.

 




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