Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It’s funny and an enjoyable read.
Vinegar girl is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. There are 6 books published so far; one being Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed– I’ve heard a lot about this one because it was on the Bailey’s prize longlist. Before picking up Vinegar Girl (for a local book club I’m going to try out for the first time this month) I hadn’t heard of the project. I hadn’t heard of Anne Tyler either, which is probably pretty shameful. Some of the planned books for the project look really good too.
I should also admit that I don’t know much about most Shakespeare plays. I did Macbeth and Julius Caesar at high school, but haven’t formally studied English literature since then, and reading Shakespeare plays for fun has just never taken my fancy! Thus all my other Shakespeare knowledge comes from pop culture. Safe to say before starting Vinegar Girl, I had no idea what the plot of The Taming of the Shrew was. I actually thought there was an actual small rodenty animal in it and have only just found out the shrew is a woman. Charming. I also just found out 10 Things I Hate About You is also a retelling of the Taming of the Shrew. I had no idea. I am a Shakespeare dunce.
Vinegar girl tells the story of Katherine Battista, elder daughter of a dedicated, stereotypically useless at everyday life, scientist. She is 29 and has found herself running the household and being mostly responsible for her 15 year old sister, Bunny. She also works full time as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Kate is a great character. She is funny, not a girly girl, and quite acerbic. I know exactly where she’s coming from with the whole not getting your hair cut thing:
Kate has basically been given up on by her family, friends and acquaintances in terms of getting settled down with a man. Then her Father’s brilliant, eastern European lab assistant, Pyotr, needs help to stay in the USA. Dr Battista wants Kate to marry him so he can get a green card and he can continue working on their autoimmune disease project. He is sure they are on the verge of a magnificent breakthough.
Did I mention Kate is funny?
I loved the character of Pyotr. He is charmingly portrayed as a scientist, with the usual associated quirks, and also as a foreigner struggled with the nuances of language and feeling separate from the rest of society because he can’t make the language do what he wants it to.
I imagine this book wouldn’t appeal to someone who is already very familiar with The Taming of the Shrew. It’s a bit of an academic exercise to be given a play to retell, rather than to be inspired to want to do a retelling of a story. There are characters that, even I can tell, are put in to reference characters from the original play, and they don’t really bring anything or go any where. Actually, maybe these character make more sense if you know the original intimately. Maybe someone can tell me? 🙂 For me, I enjoyed the story and it also made me read a whole lot about the original play. It has acted like a Shakespeare gateway.
This book also looks beautiful. The cover is gorgeous. It’s so photogenic and, you can probably see from my Instagram, that the saturated, high contrast type of picture is my preferred style and this book lends itself so well to these type of pictures.
Overall, a great, funny easy read. I will definitely be seeking out some more Anne Tyler books. Which should I try next?
and, What’s your favourite retelling of a Shakespeare play?