Book Review: "Vinegar Girl" by Anne Tyler
3.5/5 - Not her best, not her worst...
As you all know, I've been binge reading Anne Tyler novels for quite some time now. I'm reading ones I have not read before and I am even going back to ones that I read some years back and re-reading them. I think I need to get more of a scope on her writing and what kind of writer she is before I start calling her the best of something to do with 20th and 21st century literature. I have so far read quite a few of her books and I still have yet to read her newest one, so nobody tell me what happens please and thank you. Vinegar Girl is one of those books in the Hogarth Shakespeare series and to be honest, I'm surprised that I've pretty much read almost all of them. My favourite still is Howard Jacobson's Shylock is My Name. The book Vinegar Girl though, is based on The Taming of the Shrew. A more modern interpretation that probably is not as good as the famed Heath Ledger classic 10 Things I Hate About You - a film from 1999 based on the same play, but is probably somewhere in the ballpark. It has its faults, which are carefully outweighed against Anne Tyler's amazing writing skill.
Vinegar Girl takes place in Baltimore where the daughter of an eccentric scientist has dropped out of college. Dr Louis Battista is not very impressed with his daughter's attitude, but Kate decides to do whatever she feels like - thinking that the life of academia seems uninteresting, she decides to go it alone. Unfortunately, in a modern world where a degree is required for most jobs, this story quickly takes on the struggle of academic bias and forms an opinion on today's working culture of having to know everything before going to work in a very specified job. She ends up as a pre-school teaching assistant and then, with her pay, looks after her family. Her sister is called Bunny.
Pyotr is an assistant working for Dr Louis Battista and unfortunately, his visa is about to expire, forcing him to return to his home country. Dr Louis Battista devises a plan for Pyotr to marry Kate. But, the unwilling Kate may be knocked around a bit in the process. She is not going to comply that easily with something that may decide the rest of her life for her. The easy-going, compliant, intelligent and well-developed character of Pyotr though, is pretty tough to resist for even a hardened exterior like Kate.
Vinegar Girl is definitely a good interpretation of this classic play, but I really do not think it hits home the main ideas enough. One of the main ideas of the entire thing is that there are internal family conflicts, especially between the father and eldest daughter. I genuinely do not think that this is explore enough in depth but is rather rushed and skimmed over to give someone like Pyotr more time in the book. Another thing is that the character of Pyotr seems to be the best written character around, I did not really take Kate to be 'shrewish' by any standards, in fact when she was not being insulting she could be fairly reasonable, I didn't find that Bunny was developed at all and Dr Louis Battista was presented as a PhD who had, in a cliché way, had half lost his mind.
However, Anne Tyler's brilliant writing is able to bring this all together somehow. I trust that she had a reason for changing the story so much to the point that if you were not told it was based on The Taming of the Shrew - then only the names would probably hint at it.
In conclusion, this book was done to a good standard, it told a good story and it opened up something that I have not seen of Anne Tyler before: taking on Shakespeare. It definitely is not my favourite of her books, but it is written so well that it could not possibly be at the bottom.
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Film and Writing (M.A)
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