Reviews

Anne Tyler – Vinegar Girl

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

An outline of Vinegar Girl from Goodreads:

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?

The story is based on the work of Shakespeare – The Taming of the Shrew. It is a modern day retelling of a classic by Anne Tyler.

Here is a brief summary to the plot of The Taming of The Shrew:

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and was inspired by classical Roman comedy and the Italian commedia dell’arte. Baptista Minola, a rich gentleman of Padua, has two daughters: Katherina, renowned for her sharp tongue, and Bianca, who is sought after by multiple suitors. Baptista decides that Bianca cannot marry until her elder sister finds a husband. Enter Petruchio, who has come to “wive it wealthily in Padua,” and who is convinced by Bianca’s suitors to woo Katherina. The play ultimately poses the question of who is the bigger shrew: Kate or Petruchio. The subplot involves the subterfuge employed by Lucentio to woo the lovely Bianca.

“William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s preeminent dramatist.”

Wikipedia

The play has been adapted several times into popular TV shows and movies. Among those that are more well known is the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, released in 1999 – which was subsequently adapted into a TV series (2009-2010).

In Tyler’s novel, the main characters are as follows:

Kate

Sarcastic, stubborn and seems to be like her dad in more ways than she cares for → or if not that then she seems to understand him the most out of everyone else in the book. Her likeness is especially evident at the moments when she seems to be oblivious to the feelings of those around her simply doesn’t care. This is seen when she gets reprimanded at the school she assists at (Tyler, 45). In this scene she gets called into Mrs. Darling’s office to discuss why she upset on of the children’s mother by making the child feel inferior in her drawing skills.

“Emma asked who you thought Room Four’s best drawer was” Mrs. Darling said. She was consulting the notepad she kept beside her telephone. “You said -” and she read off the words – “‘I think probably Jason.'”

“Right,” Kate said.

She waited for the punch line, but Mrs. Darling put down her notepad as if she thought she delivered it. She laced her fingers together and surveyed Kate with a “So there!” expression on her face.

“That’s exactly right,” Kate expanded.

“Emma’s mother is very upset,” Mrs. Darling told her. “She says you made Emma feel inferior.”

“She is inferior,” Kate said. “Emma G. can’t draw worth a damn. She asked my honest opinion and I gave her an honest answer.”

Tyler, 45

To be fair towards Kate, I would feel exactly the same way – I would not express my true sentiments to the kids though. It is quiet direct and can come across as being harsh.

To me this was when I figured she speaks her mind regardless of the feelings of those around her. And although that is an admirable trait, I believe that there are moments when you have to be very diplomatic in your choice of words.

Another one of Kate Battista’s shrewd remarks

Pyotr

After finishing the book, I still have no clue as to what Pyotr’s personality is like though. I’m not sure if that is just my lack of understanding and not being able to fill in the blanks or if the story telling just veered away from not filling in the blanks for the reader. I can say with certainty that I did warm up to him.

I found the brutally honest remarks he makes utterly hilarious and at the same time I could not deny the trueness of some of his statements. One such statement was when he remarked,

“Is so American subtracting foods! Other countries, when they want healthiness they add foods in. Americans subtract them.”

Tyler, 53

If I remember correctly, a similar remark was made in the novel Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue (you can read the full review here, it remains one of my favourite books).


Dr. Battista

An eccentric scientist. To me, Kate and Bunny’s father is an amusing character (I feel I’m being super nice towards him here!). Nothing the man says or does can be taken seriously – everything taken with a pinch of salt as the old saying goes.

Tyler really emphasizes his oblivious mind to the world around him – He has no idea how a cellphone woks despite having a brilliant mind! (c’mon, seriously???!!! 🤣🙄). She also makes sure the reader understands how important his research is to him and that Pyotr forms an important part to it’s imminent success. At the end of the day, regardless of the story ending, the question is whether it was really fair for him to ask Kate to do this 🤔.


Bunny

Kate describes her as “the kind of person who thought the more people, the merrier.” (Tyler, 49). One can see this as being true when Pyotr (Kate’s ‘suitor‘) comes to the Battista house for dinner – invited by Dr.Battista of course (Tyler, 49-60).

I did hope for an indication by Tyler at the end of the novel regarding her relationship with Kate and Pyotr following her outburst at the wedding. But that’s just me wanting things spelled out instead of using my imagination 😄.


Shakespeare’s Heroines

Kate has become known as one of Shakespeare’s heroines. Other heroines include

  • Juliet (Romeo & Juliet),
  • Rosalind (As You Like It),
  • Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra),
  • Cordelia (King Lear),
  • Portia (The Merchant of Venice),
  • Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing),
  • Desdemona (Othello),
  • Viola (Twelfth Night),
  • Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI Parts. 1, 2, 3 and Richard III),
  • Hermia (A Midsummer Night’s Dream),
  • and Lady Macbeth (Macbeth).

(NoSweatShakespeare)

The heroines of his plays were created during a time when this type of “rebellious” behaviour was unheard of in society. Where the structures of society were mainly shaped by men. (Folgerpedia)

The reason for Kate’s inclusion in the list of Shakespeare’s heroines is given in the Folgerpedia, “While many of Shakespeare’s heroines defy their fathers to marry the men of their choice, only Kate is stubborn, loud mouthed, and disinclined to marry at all.” During that era such behaviour would be deemed as being unruly.

Final Thoughts…

I’ve checked out a few other reviews of Vinegar Girl online and most dislike the novel. I get the gist that most people disliked it because of the premise of the story – regarding the view and treatment of women. I’m not particularly opposed to it though because I understand that the play was written at a time when women’s rights were unheard of.

What made me enjoy the novel was the fact that Tyler retold the play in a light hearted way that made for very easy reading. I confess that I have not read Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew, nor have I read other novels by Anne Tyler. This book got me quite intrigued as to the style of writing in her literary works – so I am quite interested in finding one of her offerings at my local bookstore. And I admit that I probably will not read the original play (I’m ashamed but I can’t lie about this 😳) but I will be watching the movie though 🎥 – does that count 🤔🤷🏽‍♀️.

There have been other Shakespeare classics that have been adapted into modern day narratives by current authors. These were all published by Hogarth Press under the Hogarth Shakespeare project in an effort to retell Shakespeare classics (Wikipedia).

Authors and works – as of May 2018 – include:

  • The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson – a retelling of The Winter’s Tale
  • Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson – an interpretation of The Merchant of Venice
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler – a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – a re-imagining of The Tempest
  • Macbeth by Jo Nesbø – a retelling of Macbeth
  • Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn – a retelling of King Lear
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – a re-imagining of Othello

According to Wikipedia, Gillian Flynn was supposed to be working on a re-telling of Hamlet, eventually due for release in 2021.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Works Cited List

“The Taming of the Shrew (Annotated) Kindle Edition”. Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Taming-Shrew-Annotated-William-Shakespeare-ebook/dp/B089RLSSLD

“William Shakespeare”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 4 January 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare

Tyler, Anne. Vinegar Girl. Hogarth Shakespeare, an imprint of Vintage, Penguin Random House UK. Publication date 2016.

“Vinegar Girl”. Goodreads. 16 January 2022. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27070127-vinegar-girl.

“Shakespeare’s Unruly Women”. Folgerpedia. Folger, Shakespeare Library. 6 November 2017. https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/Shakespeare’s_Unruly_Women#Shakespeare.27s_Heroines

Goldswain and Goldswain. “The Most Powerful Shakespeare Female Characters”. NoSweatShakespeare. 16 January 2022. https://nosweatshakespeare.com/characters/shakespeare-female-characters/

“Hogarth Shakespeare”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 04 January 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogarth_Shakespeare


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