Parallel Novels
August 9, 2009 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What's your favorite parallel novel and why?
posted by marsha56 to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Wicked is very entertaining.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:18 PM on August 9, 2009

I love Jill Thompson's "At Death's Door", which is a parallel graphic novel to the "Season of Mists" arc of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. It's my very favorite Sandman story to begin with, and her take on Death is great (and Delirium and Despair are delightful as well). It's a very cheerful spin on a 'verse that can be very dark.
posted by Tesseractive at 6:19 PM on August 9, 2009

I'm writing my grad school essay on A Thousand Acres, which is a really amazing novel that acts as a feminist inquiry into King Lear. I could (and am, heh) write pages about how Smiley refracts the central themes of a Shakespeare's arguably most misogynist tragedy by retelling the tale from the elder sister's perspective and replacing Albion of the Dark Ages with Iowa during the Carter administration. Shakespeare's Lear paints a younger generation who cannibalizes their elders. In TA, the younger generation is betrayed by their parents in many, many ways, and yet the farm community sides with father. There are some very prescient meditations on chemical farming that winds up poisoning the family--15 years before Michael Pollan was writing about the destruction of corn farming and nitrates.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:26 PM on August 9, 2009

I loved Ahab's Wife by Sena Naslund. And yes, Wicked.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:27 PM on August 9, 2009

Yes, Wicked (expect you'll get a lot of seconds on that). Maguire's other books are fun, though most feel less original and provocative. His Lost does something slightly different and more complex; I think it's Wicked's equal.

Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike has several parallel takes on Hamlet. I never got into it that much, but I know other readers who have loved it. And if you haven't read (or better, seen) Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for sure do that.

I very much enjoyed The Hours. And it inspired me to finally finally finally read Mrs. Dalloway, which's just...oh, wow.
posted by hippugeek at 6:36 PM on August 9, 2009

Oops, missed the "why." Naslund riffs off the one sentence in Moby Dick that mentions Ahab's Wife. It's a clever conceit and well executed.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:38 PM on August 9, 2009

In a similar vein of feminist re-writes, John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius attempts to humanize Hamlet's murderous parents by creating a Gertrude trapped in a loveless marriage and completely estranged by a weird, cold son. Never would have anticipated that one of the Great Male Narcissists could create such a poignant backstory for a much-reviled Gertrude.

Penelopiad should have been more interesting than it was, mainly because Atwood's Penelope was so bland and beleaguered. Jeanette Winterson's Weight, (about Atlas) does a far better job of thoughtful myth re-telling. Those two are the only books I've read in the Canongate Myth series, but maybe someone else has more to say.

Wide Sargasso Sea is beautifully written and very moving (don't let the soft-core porn film adaptation dissuade you) and in many ways was an inspiration for landmark feminist literary text, Madwoman in the Attic.

Not a feminist re-write, but Grendel is one of my favorite YA/timeless novels, far more illuminating than Catcher in the Rye. Grendel is popular among teenagers because of its alienated anti-hero and angry solipsism. I read it once every year or two.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:41 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, because they're funny.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:42 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stephen Brust's To Reign in Hell retells the book of Revelations and Paradise Lost with Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Yahweh as credible characters with real motivations.
posted by nicwolff at 7:05 PM on August 9, 2009

I don't know if this counts, because it's a novelette based on a short story, but I would nominate Donald Barthelme, Snow White -- and to a lesser degree Jay Cantor, Krazy Kat. Because they are both funny.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:30 PM on August 9, 2009

Speaking of paralells to SNOW WHITE (and of Neil Gaiman, come to think of it), Neil Gaiman wrote a very eerie paralell to it called Snow, Glass, Apples. I like it because it's a very clever "oh, okay, yeah, if you see it that way it totally makes sense" turning-the-story-on-its-head trick.

He also wrote The Problem of Susan, a parallel response to C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle, which was the last book in the Narnia series. If you've read that, you know that it's implied that the girl Susan, one of the original 4 kids who went to Narnia, turned out to be a ditz as a teenager and kind of gets "left behind" while everyone else who ever went to Narnia gets to go to Narnia heaven. The Problem Of Susan presents an alternate take for what happened to Susan -- and why she may have wanted to stay behind. A lot of the people who felt that character got a raw deal in the Narnia books felt a little vindicated.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 PM on August 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite novels due in large part to its parallel, The Hours.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:18 PM on August 9, 2009

Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis.
posted by katopotato at 8:30 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, was one of my favorite Sci-Fi books ever. The 5th in the series, Ender's Shadow, followed and fleshed out an enigmatic secondary character. It was excellent.
posted by dualityofmind at 8:48 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Geoff Ryman's Was (in the link) is a lovely, sometimes heart-breaking, double twist on The Wizard of Oz and the life of Judy Garland.

Seconding zoomorphic's choice of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, which I teach regularly as part of a King Lear unit. Very strong rereading of King Lear, and one that thinks through the consequences of the choices it makes.

James Robertson's The Testament of Gideon Mack is an oblique but powerful reworking of, among other things, James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (although the novel remains effective even if you don't recognize the allusions).

A great, and very early, parallel novel: Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, which tackles Samuel Richardson's Pamela (Joseph is Pamela's brother). Good fun, especially if you've read Richardson.

Ian R. MacLeod's The Light Ages is a careful (but very controversial, thanks to its politics) steampunk revamp of Great Expectations.

If you like Jane Austen, Reginald Hill's Pictures of Perfection--part of the Dalziel and Pascoe series--offers hilarious resettings of multiple Austen plots. The central romance is Pride and Prejudice, featuring the two most unlikely stand-ins imaginable for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. (You need to be up on the D&P novels already, though--this isn't the place to start.)

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which has to be the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes parody.

Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy is a sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol, narrated by an adult Tiny Tim. A little clumsy in spots, but it has some interesting (and plausible) reflections on how a child might actually react to being turned into a fictional saint.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:50 PM on August 9, 2009

Count me as another vote for the Ender's Game / Ender's Shadow pairing, as it added behind-the-scenes information on exactly why certain events occurred as they did.

Also, Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire is a series of novels that all follow different characters (family members in the Ruby Dynasty) and many of them overlap time frames such that one event in one book affects another character in another book. It was fascinating to build up such a comprehensive view of the events of the novels and see cause and effect play out on an interstellar level.

If I remember any more, I'll add them later.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:11 PM on August 9, 2009

Another vote for Wide Sargasso Sea.

My favorite of all time is The Horse and His Boy, the fifth story in C. S. Lewis' Narnia series... and the reason is rather prosaic: at age 8 or 9, it was my first experience with parallel storytelling (alongside The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and my little mind was just blown. That Shasta's adventure was happening *while* the human children sat at Cair Paravel... it was like reading one's first clever twist ending or prequel, or the first time one sees an actor break the fourth wall. "Wow, they can DO THAT??"
posted by pineapple at 9:12 PM on August 9, 2009

Seconding Donald Barthelme's Snow White because no one else writes like Barthelme, and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose for the way it makes medieval theological debates seem relevant and interesting, and also because parts of it are very funny. But my favorite is Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. It's an imperfect first novel, but despite its slow, measured pace it was hard to put down.

If the 1949 sci-fi/fantasy-ish Silverlock by John Myers Myers counts--it doesn't have just one parallel but rather dozens of them from "classic" literature--it's among my favorites too. The narrator travels through a land populated by book characters including Don Quixote, Circe, Beowulf, Becky Thatcher and Faust. Readers don't have to recognize the characters to enjoy the book, and the narrator himself doesn't recognize them, which sets him up as a foil.
posted by homelystar at 10:16 PM on August 9, 2009

I can't believe no-one has mentioned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!

zingingly witty parrallel to Hamlet, with the two hapless courtiers exploring their untenable situation as bit players embroiled in a tragic scandal far beyond their ken. A classic, for sure.
posted by Philby at 10:25 PM on August 9, 2009

There have been a bunch of great suggestions so far--I'm looking forward to some re-reads and new reads! I'll add that many of the late, great Angela Carter's short stories re-tell fairy tales in lush, beautiful (and sometimes grotesque) ways, and are very much worth checking out.
posted by Bergamot at 10:52 PM on August 9, 2009

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume II runs pretty neatly alongside the action of War of The Worlds. Mainly I like it for the horrific brutal violence, and the sex.
posted by Artw at 12:16 AM on August 10, 2009

(How is The Name Of The Rose a parallel novel?)
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:04 AM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't believe no-one has mentioned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!

Not a novel.
posted by rokusan at 1:51 AM on August 10, 2009

Thirding Wide Sargasso Sea. I always found the first Mrs Rochester's story far too simplistic and bizarrely unsympathetic in Jane Eyre.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2009

Its been a long time since I read it, but I really liked Grendel by John Gardner. A very psychological read.
posted by rtimmel at 4:01 PM on August 10, 2009

Ender's Shadow is great, especially if you like Enders Game. One of the things I like best about it is that there are several conversations where the dialogue doesn't exactly match. The author says this is because of each character's perspective and recollection of the event. I think that is pretty cool. It's also just a really magnificent story.
posted by Night_owl at 4:02 PM on August 10, 2009

I also loved The Historian - so far, it's the only thing that's ever gotten me interested in the Dracula legend.
posted by lunasol at 4:56 PM on August 10, 2009

What about Flashman/Tom Brown's School Days?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:20 PM on August 10, 2009

Gilead and Home, both by Marilynne Robinson
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 9:31 AM on August 11, 2009

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