Vinegar Girl – The Taming of the Shrew retold by Anne Tyler
Opening sentence: “Kate Battista was gardening out back when she heard the telephone ring in the kitchen.”
I have to admit, I don’t read much Shakespeare in my adult life. I did, of course, at school, but for some reason only ever studied his tragedies, so The Taming of the Shrew (a comedy) was not one that I read. I do know the story, so this retelling wasn’t completely lost on me and I was intrigued to read it, as I find the original story quite vulgar and wondered how it would translate in the modern day.
We meet lead character Kate Battista, who lives a pretty aimless life. She had to leave college, finds herself in a job she doesn’t really enjoy and is still living at home with her father and her younger sister, Bunny, at the age of 29. She might lack a little direction in life, (at times, who doesn’t?) but she is not a bad person and actually comes across as quite relatable, if not a little likeable, in contradiction to both the ‘shrew’ stereotype and the ‘vinegar girl’ of the title.
Her father, Louis, is a scientist and his brilliant research assistant, Pyotr, is in danger of being deported when his visa soon expires, so Louis comes up with a cunning plan… why doesn’t Pyotr marry Kate for a green card? Kate, after all, doesn’t have much going for her, seems to be her father’s attitude, so why shouldn’t she do this illegal and potentially life-changing thing to help him out.
Surely opinionated, intelligent and modern Kate would never let herself be easily talked into doing such a thing, would she? As this is an updated retelling, I really thought it would showcase Kate’s independence and contemporary feminist spirit, but… not so much.
Although this was both easy and enjoyable to read (and Pyotr proved to be a smile-inducing character on more than one occasion) I found that the story had almost been watered down too much, so there was no real depth to the characters and due to this, their actions just didn’t have the essential ring of truth to them.