Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Vinegar Girl was commissioned by Vintage as part of their Hogarth Shakespeare series where best selling authors retell Shakespeare's plays in a contemporary novel form. As I was visiting Stratford upon Avon, I chose to take Vinegar Girl along. Anne Tyler, a Pullitzer Prize winning author, has rewritten The Taming of the Shrew. Before I start, I have to confess that this has never been my favourite Shakespeare play. I am fairly ambivalent towards it, never too sure how to take its portrayal of women. In Vinegar Girl, Kate is the elder daughter who runs the Baltimore household for her widowed father, a dedicated scientist, Dr Battista and her younger sister, the impulsive Bunny. Dr Battista hatches a plan for Kate to marry a young scientist, Pyotr, for emigration and visa reasons. Driven by his desire to further his scientific research , Dr Battista tries to railroad Kate into a marriage of convenience.
I found this to be fairly entertaining and a quick read. Kate's quick witted and straight talking personality made her likeable but in some ways, I wanted her to show a little more spark. In the end, I was rooting for her. I did not find her particularly 'shrewish', just a moderately independent, modern young woman, who was socially a little awkward. Whether she was 'tamed' or not by Pyotr, is up for debate. Nonetheless, I particularly enjoyed the episodes when Kate was at work at her pre- school, with keenly observed details of her attitude towards young children at play. There was also comedy to be had from Pyotr's misunderstanding of english phrases and culture as he looked at Baltimore life through a foreigner's eyes.
Anne Tyler found a plausible way of transposing the plot of the original play to the 21st century. As the story developed. I felt that it started to lose credibility, especially Bunny's part in it. The plot seemed a little unevenly paced for me with the ending coming all in a rush or so it seemed. I think that this was to fit in with the constraints of the original play. I have Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread on my To Be Read list and I have heard great things about it, so my fingers are crossed that it will live up to expectations.
In short: a modern reworking of a classic tale
Thanks to the publishers, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for an e-copy of the book via NetGalley.