I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Shakespeare's controversial comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" sees wilful, independent Katherina transformed into a willing, obedient wife to Petruchio. It is one of Shakespeare's most re-visited plays, with adaptations including "Kiss Me Kate," and "10 Things I Hate About You."
Anne Tyler's delightful "Vinegar Girl" features Kate, a socially awkward young woman, adored by the preschool children she teaches but misunderstood by her peers. Her father is a scientific genius, but not so great on emotions. About to lose his (equally genius, equally socially inept) research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, because of visa problems, and desperate to save the project that is his life's work, he comes up with a plan: Kate will marry Pyotr who will then be able to stay in the country and finish the project. The plan sounds perfect, except for one small hitch: Kate.
I am really enjoying this Hogarth Shakespeare series, where prominent authors are retelling Shakespeare’s works. I must confess that I’ve not read anything before by Anne Tyler ever before, but I will check out her other works based on how much I loved Vinegar Girl. This is Tyler’s version of The Taming of the Shrew which is NOT my favourite Shakespearean play, although I did enjoy the latest version of it that I’ve seen performed.
I wondered how Tyler would make the basic plot more palatable to the modern woman and I think she did a fantastic job. Kate is the daughter of an absent-minded science professor and neither of them are good at social skills—they’re very blunt and often don’t know what to do with other people. The father’s Russian research assistant (who is equally clueless about non-science issues) is in a bind—his visa is running out—and Kate’s father determines that the easiest solution would be for Kate to marry him. There are a lot of humourous situations as Pyotr pursues Kate and as Kate considers her options.
I loved the conversation which gives the book its title—Kate quotes that old saying, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, to which Pyotr replies “Why would you want to catch flies, vinegar girl?”
Also fabulous: Kate’s final speech at the book’s end about how difficult it is to be a man in our society. She decries the societal norms that put so much career pressure on men and expect them to go through life stoically, hiding their emotions. A wonderful, fresh spin on a part of the original play which annoys me a great deal.