In brief: It’s The Taming of the Shrew, told in a modern and fun way. Kate’s father wants her to marry his research assistant so he can stay in America. But what does Kate want?
The good: Funny, forthright and with a nice dose of science in the setting.
The not-so-good: I read it really quickly!
Why I chose it: I love Anne Tyler. Thanks to Vintage Publishing for the eARC.
Publisher: Random House (Hogarth)
My rating: 10 out of 10
I love the honesty and the way Anne Tyler portrays families in her novels. It was a given that I was going to read Vinegar Girl, but when I heard it was a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew (or, 10 Things I Hate About You for the movie watchers), I was ecstatic. I love retellings of classics (although I don’t always love the final work) and I knew Anne Tyler would absolutely nail this. After finishing this book, I love her work even more.
Main character Kate Battista (aka the shrew) is certainly a vinegar girl. Her observations and honesty make the mouth water like the sourest of salt and vinegar chips. Kate doesn’t just tell it how it is, she cuts it back to the barest of bones before delivering it in the most awkward of settings. But despite her acid tongue, she’s a truly lovely character that was easy to relate to. In the end I found her refreshing because as a reader, I could trust her to give me an accurate description of what was happening. No sugar coating or unreliable narrators allowed in this story (except for gorgeous younger sister Bunny’s lies about the boy next door).
Anne Tyler has set the story in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins University. Kate’s father is a researcher in immunology – what he does, she’s not too sure but he’s always on the edge of a breakthrough. This means that parenting, housework and paperwork for the family all belong firmly to Kate. After leaving college somewhat disgracefully, she’s a teacher’s assistant and general dogsbody for the other Battistas. It seems like life will contain on in the same fashion until haphazard Dr Battista has a revelation on how to keep his research assistant in the country – Kate can marry him. In a lovable but awkward way, he throws her together with Pyotr, hoping something will spark until he eventually comes clean. It’s weird enough that Kate might just do it.
Kate and Pyotr’s courtship is awkward but amusing – Dr Battista insists on regular photographs and texts ready to foil Immigration by being one step ahead. The wedding has got to be one of the most strange and hilarious scenes I’ve ever read, which also brings out what Kate and Pyotr both hold dear. The story cumulates in a wedding dinner with a magnificent array of unique characters. And for the truly romantic, the epilogue is just too cute. I’m not a big expert on the original Shakespeare, but I enjoyed this take on it.
I found Vinegar Girl to be a really fast read (I read 40% at the hairdresser, which please take to mean that I liked it, not that my hairdresser is slow or my hair upkeep laborious). It was a story that I wanted to pick up and read over and over again. It has Anne Tyler’s wit and humour combined with some crazy scenes for out and out laughter. It’s not great literature, but it’s a book that will happily engross you while you read it.