Wednesday, May 25, 2016

553 (2016 #19). Vinegar Girl

by Ann Tyler

Vinegar Girl is a fun retelling of Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew by bestselling author Anne Tyler (an author I am not that familiar with, as I have only read one of her books, years ago).  It's been stripped down to its essentials - Katharina (Kate in this book), Petruchio (Pyotr), and Baptista Minola (Dr. Battista).  These three main characters lack a lot of social skills - which of course makes the story funny.

Baptista's daughter and Katharina's sister Bianca (Bunny in the book) still appears, but her distracting subplot is (mostly) gone - as is (thankfully) the confusing introductory induction scene (no Christopher Sly here!).

I'm much more familiar with The Taming of the Shrew, having seen the play performed at least five times.  That made it quite easy to see the parallels in this book.  They are merely parallels, though, as Tyler has crafted a unique version of the tale, set in modern times, with an interesting twist in the plot.

The clever title comes from a comment Pyotr/Petruchio makes to Kate/Katharina that reflects his Russian's fascination with American idioms.  There's also a reworking of Katharina's (in)famous "obedience" speech at the end that's much more up-to-date.  Tyler also adds a humorous epilogue, set about six years later - perhaps as an opposite to the induction in Shakespeare's play.

Vinegar Girl is the third in the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books where bestselling authors are commissioned to retell stories from Shakespeare.  I didn't really care for the second book in the series, based on The Merchant of Venice which, like The Taming of the Shrew, also deals with a politically-incorrect (today) theme - Anne Tyler just handled it much better, in my opinion.   However, I'm interested in reading the first book as well as future titles in the series.  I do think this is a series where it is helpful to have read the Shakespeare play the book is based on, particularly if you are otherwise unfamiliar with the retelling author's work.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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