"The ensuing story [...] is told with verve, intelligence and an engaging sense of the absurd"by Matthew Adams / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler (Hogarth, £16.99)
Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew—the latest instalment in Hogarth Press’s contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays—tells the story of a frustrated pre-school teacher Kate Battista. The source of Kate’s frustration is domestic and professional: her peculiar conduct at school routinely raises the eyebrows of her employers and the ire of parents (and leaves Kate feeling unappreciated), while her home life in Baltimore is dominated by her selfish and eccentric father, Dr Battista, and her haughty and attractive younger sister, Bunny, both of whom treat Kate like a servant.
The animating conundrum of the novel is that Dr Battista, an undistinguished scientist, is on the verge of making a discovery that will transform his academic reputation, and improve the lives of millions. But there is a difficulty. Battista’s assistant, Pyotr, on whom the future of the project depends, is facing deportation. Confronted by the prospect of a life of continuing obscurity, Battista tries to find a way of keeping Pyotr in the country. And the plan he comes up with involves Kate.
The ensuing story, in which we watch Dr Battista and Pyotr attempt to tame Kate and win her affections, is told with verve, intelligence and an engaging sense of the absurd. Pyotr and Kate, in particular, are tremendously appealing characters and Tyler’s handling of the story of their peculiar relationship results in a novel that, for all the acidity involved, is tender, funny and affecting.