The retelling of classic stories can go one of two ways: They are either stunningly brilliant and able to stand on their own two feet (aka the marvelous Song of Achilles), or they can go horribly wrong and leave you cringing in distaste (I’m looking at you Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).
Luckily, Vinegar Girl landed on the more positive end of things, and I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it! The Taming of the Shrew has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, so I was slightly worried that the latest retelling would dampen my affection for the story. My apprehension was completely unnecessary, however, as Anne Tyler has delivered a fun and delightful read that I actually managed to devour in a single sitting!
In this version of events, Kate is the daughter of researcher who is on the verge of a huge scientific discovery. The only problem? Dr. Battista’s lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. In her father’s eyes the solution is simple: Kate must marry Pyotr to help him stay in the country! His relentless campaign to convince her results in a light-hearted read that felt a bit like watching a rom-com.
So, how similar is Vinegar Girl to its original text? In the portrayal of Kate the story is pretty spot on (at least from what I can remember). Kate is intelligent, independent, sharp-tongued and stubborn. She’s a bit rough around the edges, but this just added to her charm. I loved watching her interactions with others, and enjoyed seeing her slow transformation throughout the course of the book.
Pyotr, on the other hand, was a bit different from Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. While Petruchio is boastful and selfish, Pyotr seemed much more understanding and lovable. We only really see a glimpse of Shakespeare’s characterization towards the end of the book, and even then Pyotr still seemed to be more amiable considering the circumstances of the scene. But I’m not complaining! I loved Pytor’s character and even found him kind of charming.
My only criticism about the book is the author’s attempt to incorporate Kate’s famous speech from the end of The Taming of the Shrew into her story. For those of you unfamiliar with the original play, the last scene depicts Kate giving a speech about how women should be obedient to their husbands. While I can see why Anne Tyler would feel like she needed to make reference to this scene, her interpretation felt a bit awkward and forced, and overall the story would have been much better without it.
Despite this minor grievance on my part, the book as a whole was a fun, lighthearted, and fast-paced retelling. Those who know The Taming of the Shrew will enjoy seeing their favourite characters come to life in a modern setting, and those who are unfamiliar with the play will discover a new and delightful story.