Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.
I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.
História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different.
História do Cerco de Lisboa, The History of the Siege of Lisbon in the translation into English, is partially set, as the title implies, during the siege of Lisbon in the 12th century. The main character, Raimundo Silva, is a man from the 20th century, though. He is a proofreader who is working on a book about the siege that took place during the Christian Reconquista. He decides to add a “no” to a sentence, making it factually incorrect. Afterwards, the publishing house hires a woman to oversee the work of all proofreaders.
A story about drug abuse, The House on the Strand mixes sci-fi and historical fiction. Richard Young is asked to try a new drug that makes him mentally travel in time. While in the 14th century, he becomes smitten by Isolda.
The Muse by Jessie Burton + The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
The world of art and the treatment of women within it feature heavily in these two novels. Their plots, however, are strikingly different. In The Muse by Jessie Burton, two time periods are connected by a painting shrouded in mystery. In 1967, Odelle Bastien is offered a job as a typist at the Skelton Gallery in London. In 1936, Olive Schloss arrives at a house in rural Spain and gathers courage to tell her parents that she has been accepted to do a Fine Arts degree.
Only set in 1850, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal has as main character Iris, who wants to become a painter, even though her family doesn’t consider it to be an appropriate occupation for a woman. She meets Silas, a taxidermist, and Louis, a painter who wants her to be his model. It explores the understandable desire for independence and freedom.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood + Dear Mr M. by Herman Koch
At a first impression, these two novels couldn’t be more different, but they both delve into how reality (within the context of a story) can influence fiction. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood is a mystery and family drama about the difficulties faced by women in the 20th century. Laura Chase drove a car off a bridge close after the end of the Second World War. What was the reason behind Laura’s fate? The book features a first-person narration by Laura’s sister, Iris, various news pieces, and a short book written by Laura.
Dear Mr M. by Herman Koch is a crime story mixed with a reflection on the writing of fiction. It features many fleshed-out characters that are part of two intertwined stories – one focusing on a renowned writer, who is not as successful as he used to be; and other told from the point of view of his creepy neighbour.
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier + O Homem Duplicado (The Double) by José Saramago
Both of these novels revolve around doppelgangers, but Daphne du Maurier and José Saramago adopted two different approaches to the same theme. In The Scapegoat, our English narrator meets at a station buffet a French man who looks exactly like him. After having some drinks together, they stay at a hotel. The following day, Jean de Gué disappears taking with him the narrator’s clothes and wallet. Their resemblance is so evident that, considering the circumstances, the narrator ends up deciding to assume Jean’s place as well. Throughout the novel, the narrator not only unearths information about Jean’s family, but also learns more about himself.
In O Homem Duplicado, The Double in the English translation, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso discovers, while watching a film, that there’s a man who is his spitting image. This disturbs him deeply. This is mainly a book about the human condition and how people like feeling unique.
Have you read any of these books? Which pairs of books have you read that are different yet similar? Tell me in the comments!