The latest modern retelling of Shakespeare’s timeless stories, released by Hogarth and written by Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler, lovingly carries within it the bones and shape of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, clothed in quintessentially twenty first century, easy breezy beach read trappings.
Vinegar Girl is the compulsively readable story of Kate Battista, the daughter of a socially inept research scientist who hatches a mad plan: his Russian research assistant Pyotr should marry Kate in a green card marriage, thus allowing Pyotr to stay in the country to continue helping Dr Battista with his work. Inevitable shenanigans ensue. The absurdity of this plan is nicely balanced by the fantastically ornery Kate. As shrews go, Kate makes a really engaging one. Kate is blunt to the point of rudeness, charmingly oblivious to social cues, eternally exasperated and prickly as a hedgehog but probably less cute. But as we get to know her, we do get to see her vulnerable core, which helps to explain her (inevitable) softening towards Pyotr.
Kate is the most well-rounded character in the novel, but the whole cast of characters is equally entertaining. Kate’s much younger sister Bunny is an excruciatingly annoying teenager with a tendency to end all her sentences as if they were questions (you might be forgiven for thinking she was Kiwi!) Pyotr, interestingly, is not depicted as a dashing and skilled wooer of women, as in the play – instead he is an awkward, slightly galumphing, hyper-intelligent nerd (whose Russian accent Tyler captures so perfectly, and whose proverbs make almost no sense at all. “In my country they have proverb: ‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.’” Sure, Pyotr. Whatever you say.)
You don’t have to know The Taming of the Shrew to enjoy Vinegar Girl. Written in a clear easy-going style, with highly amusing characters and a plot that follows the shape of both the Shakespearean play and also, somehow, every satisfying chick lit book, this novel is fun comfort-food reading. Despite the vinegar in the title and in the character of Kate, Vinegar Girl won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth. If anything, you’ll gobble it down in one go.
Reviewed by Feby Idrus
by Anne Tyler
Published by Hogarth Shakespeare