Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl
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Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler

Kate Battista is stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and infuriating younger sister Bunny?

Dr Battista has other problems. His brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, his new scientific breakthrough will fall througha When Dr Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying - as usual - on Kate to help him. Will Kate be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to win her round?

Anne Tyler’s brilliant retelling of The Taming of the Shrew asks whether a thoroughly modern woman like Kate would ever sacrifice herself for a man. The answer is as surprising as Kate herself.

Review

Shakespeare’s comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, is one of the more problematic stories for a modern reader, so I was interested to see how Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler addressed the deeply misogynistic themes of the original in her contemporary retelling, Vinegar Girl.

Kate Battista is strong and capable; running the household for her scatterbrained scientist father and airheaded teenaged sister, whilst also working part-time at a preschool. But Kate feels rudderless – her own education came to a grinding halt after she was kicked out of college for telling her botany professor that his explanation of photosynthesis was ‘half-assed’, and she’s on notice at her job for her distinct lack of ‘Tact. Restraint. Diplomacy.’ Her personal life is also floundering: her family’s reliance on her has left her with few friends, and her crush on drippy, guitar-playing, dream-catcher-making workmate Adam is (mercifully) unrequited.

Enter Pyotr Scherbakov. Or, more accurately, enter the US Department of Immigration, and the impending termination of Pyotr Scherbakov’s O-1 visa. Kate’s scientist father has been reliant on his passionate, but unconventional, young lab assistant for three years, and has cooked up a plan to keep him in the country … he just needs his contrary, headstrong, and obstinate eldest child to agree.

Vinegar Girl is enormously good fun, populated with wonderfully rendered characters, and – considering the source material – a remarkably believable premise. Her ‘shrew’ is a decidedly modern young woman whose prickly exterior belies a gentle soul, but it’s Pyotr who steals the show: his stumbling courtship of Kate and tenuous grasp on the English language give him an endearing naivety that is counterbalanced by an obviously brilliant mind and affecting back story. This unconventional love story is witty, clever, beautifully written and deeply satisfying, and if the eventual ‘taming’ left me a little off-kilter, it certainly didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.


Lian Hingee is the digital marketing manager for Readings.

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