I am starting to tackle the Hogarth Shakespeare project books. The publisher is releasing a series of books by bestselling novelists retelling some of Shakespeare’s plays, updating them as modern novels. The series started last year, and I have just read my first, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the review copy.
Full disclosure, while I love Shakespeare, I never quite loved Shrew. Mostly because it’s so insanely sexist… the Shrew being Katarina, a difficult woman (probably because she thinks) who has to be married off before her beautiful younger sister (with less thoughts) can find love. I guess we can’t blame Shakespeare for not being a feminist a few hundred years ago. But, seriously, it’s rough.
Anne Tyler manages to soften up most of those edges, and gives us a sweet and modern story where Kate Battista – an almost thirty year old pre-school teacher who lives at home taking care of her self-absorbed scientist father and naïve and vain sister Bunny – is funny and acerbic and very likeable. This Kate’s behavior is driven by social anxiety and isolation, not a desire to irritate everyone with her independence. The stakes are lower here as well; the fact that Bunny is not allowed to date has nothing to do with Kate’s social status, it is about the fact that she is fifteen and a handful. And while Kate is lonely and unsure of her future, you can see that it would be perfectly fine if she did end up alone.
Dr. Battista, Kate’s father, is a research scientist at a crucial crossroads who is in danger of losing his brilliant lab assistant, Pyotr, to immigration issues just as he is on the verge of a new discovery. In order to keep Pyotr in the country, Dr. Battista decides to try to marry him off to Kate. As she does not know him at all, and as this is outrageously inappropriate, Kate responds in exactly the right manner by flatly refusing them. This launches a series of silly but ultimately touching efforts from Pyotr and her father to make Kate fall in love with him.
Overall I really enjoyed the book. I plan to go back and check out some of the previous Hogarth releases, and I’m very much looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest later this year.
Grade – B