What Happens When

What Happens When “The Canterbury Tales” Gets a Modern, Feminist Makeover

In Kim Wright’s new novel The Canterbury Sisters, nine women meet up for a walking pilgrimage to Canterbury. The women agree to amuse themselves on their walk by each telling a tale about love, combining the themes of Chaucer and chick-lit.

It’s a little bit confusing keeping track of all the characters. Narrator Che worries about the same thing and uses her mental mnemonics to remember their names. But as the stories unfold, the women tie into their Chaucerian counterparts and it’s easier to identify them. For example, Claire tells a story of her fourth husband’s racy secret, and how it destroyed their marriage, and she ends by giving up on marriage and taking up with the young pool boy, just in case you weren’t sure if she’s the wife of Bath.

The Miller is Angelique, a Jersey reality star who tells the story of Cupid and Psyche (which is one of my favorite myths). And speedwalker Steffi reveals the past behind her fit lifestyle. Is she the Pardoner, with chocolate indulgences? Is she the Prioress with a dark past beneath her proper exterior? Oddly, the weakest spot was the narrator’s own story. I tend to roll my eyes whenever a high-strung character loses their phone and must learn an Important Life Lesson about slowing down and being fully present. Wright avoids making this a morality tale about bad modern technology, but after so many thoughtful and insightful meditations on love and life, Che’s arc feels somewhat clunky.

One of the things I liked best about reading The Canterbury Tales in college was the layered stories within stories and characters who were people and symbols at the same time. Fans of character-driven novels will love this story, and the more you’ve studied The Canterbury Tales, the more there is to enjoy.

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