1 May 2014

Telling and Retelling

Posted by Rachael Beale

There are only seven basic plots – or three, or 20, or 36 – but infinite ways to turn them into stories, something that may explain our persistent fascination with re-telling and reframing.

For the smaller reader, Pushkin Press are midway through publishing 'Save the Story', a series they describe as "a mission in book form: saving great stories from oblivion by retelling them for a new, younger generation". (Alessandro Baricco, who conceived the series in collaboration with Scuola Holden in Turin, and Jonathan Coe, author of The Story of Gulliver, will be discussing the series at the Bookshop on Tuesday 2 June.) From Ali Smith's The Story of Antigone to Yiyun Li's The Story of Gilgamesh, Pushkin's consistently excellent design and production has resulted in the sort of book that sends paper obsessives into transports of delight.

Again and again, novelists return to the Judæo-Christian tradition in search of fresh insight (we've selected a few of the best for you here). Over at the Barbican Theatre, Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner's Tony-award-winning production of The Testament of Mary begins previews today. A double transformation, their version reframes for the stage Colm Tóibín's Booker-shortlisted novel, which in turn re-tells the story of the mother of God. The same actor-director team enjoyed great acclaim for their 1996 dramatic recreation of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (available in full in Faber's app – or in fragmented form on YouTube for those without spare cash or an iPad). 'The way things sit on the page is quite different to the way things stand up when you move them,' Shaw says in conversation with Warner on the Barbican's podcast; what is subversive in print is transformed again, and made newly spiritual.