Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie review – a contemporary reworking of Sophocles

The story of Antigone plays out in the modern world, in this Man Booker-longlisted exploration of the clash between society, family and religious faith

In Sophocles’s play Antigone a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor) and religious law (the traitor is Antigone’s brother, Polynices, who has declared war on his city, and killed his own brother, Eteocles, along the way). Antigone’s “good” brother gets a funeral, the “bad” one is left to rot. Leaving a relative unburied is profoundly taboo in ancient Greece, so Antigone must decide: does she obey her conscience and bury Polynices – the punishment for which is the death penalty – or does she obey the law and leave her brother to be picked apart by dogs?

Related: Kamila Shamsie: let’s have a year of ...

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman review – a rich retelling

The fantasy polymath reimagines Asgard, complete with giant cats, collapsible ships and gossipy squirrelsIt’s virtually impossible to read more than 10 words by Neil Gaiman and not wish he would tell you the rest of the story. He is a thesaurus of myth, both original and traditional, as comfortable appraising the science fiction of Douglas Adams or co-authoring fantasy with Terry Pratchett as he is reimagining the story of Orpheus and Eurydice or creating a bleakly funny serial killers’ convention in small-town America. And that’s before you get on to his children’s picture books. Eclectic doesn’t quite cover it. Still, it comes as something of a shock that he begins this most recent book with the words, “If I had to declare a favourite [sequence of myth], it would probably be for the Norse myths.” Surely  Gaiman loves the Greeks the most? All those gorgeous Sandman comics, playing around with ...

SPQR by Mary Beard review – vastly engaging

Beard’s study of the Romans is as scholarly as it is hugely readable

Rome’s earliest history is lost within the mists and myths of time. Even the traditional date of the founding of the city was decided upon many centuries later, by Cicero’s great friend, Atticus. He narrowed things down using a chronological treatise to the third year of the sixth cycle of the Olympic Games: 753BC. And the fall of Rome is almost as difficult to place. Did Rome cease to have an empire when Constantine became a Christian, in 337? Did it limp on until the Visigoths pitched up in 410?

To add to our temporal uncertainties there is also the question of what the Roman empire – and Rome itself – really was, even during the time when it was unquestionably a global superpower. As Mary Beard succinctly puts it in the introduction to SPQR, her ...