Book Title: Vinegar Girl
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare Project
Author: Anne Tyler
Goodreads Link: Click here
Star Rating: – Very good book!
Disclaimer: I received this book free from Edelweiss in return for an un-biased review.
Like Hag-Seed by Magaret Atwood, Vinegar Girl is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. A number of authors are creating new, modern re-tellings of some of Shakespeare’s famous plays, in this instance The Taming of the Shrew. Wonderful, everyone thinks! Sounds like fun, I say! … Have you read this play? To say it’s troubling is putting it mildly. Misogyny, cruelty, and abuse abound in this play and I found it hard to get through. The shrew in question is a young woman named Kate, in my reading she seems an intelligent, independent person. She has a problem with her temper, but I felt that years of neglect and unkindness from the men in her life had poisoned her. She is deeply, DEEPLY unhappy. A man makes a deal with her father and decides marry Kate in order to “break” her, thus taming this horrible shrew into a subservient wife. He proceeds to abuse, gaslight, starve, and submit her to sleep deprivation, but all to good effect! She is tamed, and they are in love! Happy ending, right? I HATED IT.
Now that I finished reading Shrew, I thought how on earth is this author going to adapt the material? This isn’t the first adaptation for this play, there was a musical version called Kiss Me Kate and a movie called 10 Things I Hate About You. They largely removed the abusive aspects of the play and presented it as a lighthearted comedy. How would Anne Tyler approach the material?
She also tweaked the story to make it more palatable. This Kate was not so much a shrew as a beleaguered young woman who has lost her way. She is in her late 20’s, works a job far below her potential, and keeps house for her father and younger sister. Neither of which are easy to deal with. She is very intelligent, attractive and independent, but social graces are not her strong suit. Socially, she doesn’t like to play games or follow the usual social conventions. She hates downplaying her intelligence in order to attract a man and tends to speak her mind too plainly for most people. I simply loved her. Her father, who loves his daughters but constantly takes advantage of Kate’s self sufficiency, asks Kate to marry a colleague of his in order to keep the man from being deported once his Visa expires. Kate is horrified, but she loves her family and is used to doing whatever they want regardless of her own needs.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this book. I’m sorry to say that after reading Taming of the Shrew I was not in the proper frame of mind for this book. I was ready to hate Vinegar Girl, and was sure I would. The first few chapters were difficult for me. Gradually, Ms. Tyler won me over. I feel for Kate. She is someone I relate to very deeply. I wanted her to find a way to reconcile her love for her family and become able to move ahead in life. I was pleasantly surprised by how the author was able to accomplish that. She also included a lot of little touches of comedy that called back to the original material. Much like people who turn an old book into a piece of book art, she took bad material and fashioned little treasure out of it. I ended up enjoying the book quite a bit. I recommend it.
Bonus Link: An interview with Anne Tyler in the Washington Post about writing Vinegar Girl (spoiler: she hates Shakespeare!)
Song for this book: We Sink by Chvrches