“Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition”
I had such high expectations for this book; good reviews combined with that beautiful cover and the memory of how successfully it can be retold, I went into it with high hopes.
The latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare project which sees notable authors pair up with Shakespeare’s most famous works, Vinegar Girl is Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. Taming has received its fair share of controversy in the last century or so for depicting headstrong women as “shrews” who are deservedly tamed until they fit into appropriate and acceptable role in society.
Vinegar Girl tells the story of Kate Battista, a 29-year-old nursery teacher who is dissatisfied with her job and spends most of her time looking after her eccentric scientist-father and her younger sister Bunny (Bianca). While Taming seems perennially out-dated, 10 Things I Hate About You showed how brilliantly it can be reworked into a modern adaptation that incorporates feminist themes and examines today’s women, family and relationships.
The novel’s Petruchio is Pyotr, a research assistant who works in Kate’s father’s lab and who needs to marry to continue staying in this country and working with her father. So a plot is hashed for Kate to marry Pyotr long enough for him to get a visa and remain in this country, very 21st century right? Unfortunately this didn’t sit right with me and I found it incredibly archaic to pressure a modern woman into marriage (also, Katherine wouldn’t agree if she was a 2016 gal!) The plus is it takes Pyotr a couple of weeks to win over Kate’s acceptance, yet there was no chemistry and their relationship felt underdeveloped.
There were many other deviations that I found retracted from the effect of the entire retelling. Kate’s characterisation doesn’t match up to Katherine’s feisty and high-tempered personality, instead she’s just confused and irritated. A couple of subplots have completely disappeared from this adaptation including Bianca’s numerous suitors, a storyline that builds her up as representative of the only other role in society that a woman can hold aside from “the shrew.” There were also questionable lines such as ‘She hadn’t realised she’d been so witty’ which made me wonder if I had been reading fanfiction all along.
Tyler could have done so much more with this text, it’s a play that screams to be moulded and reworked to have a place in this century. And yet, I closed the book feeling uneasy and confused. There isn’t enough of the original play within this retelling to be a tribute and the plot and characters felt underdeveloped and stuck in the past. If you’re after an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, watch 10 Things I Hate About You instead.
Find out more about the Hogarth Shakespeare Project here