this review is by E.L. Hussey
Vinegar Girl is a modern day re-telling of one of William Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, The Taming of the Shrew. Interestingly, I finished reading this book shortly after seeing Shrew performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. For those who are not familiar with this particular work of The Bard, I would suggest reading the play in all its glory first, since there are many key moments in this book that mirror notable scenes in the play.
Shrew is highly controversial, especially today. Essentially, Shrew is the story of a witty and independent woman, Katherine, who is abused into submission by Petruchio, her husband, a man her father forces her to marry. It is a dark play that ends with a powerful speech given by Katherine about how obedience is the most important quality in a wife. It is not exactly uplifting or feminist… at least not within the text itself. There have been on-stage interpretations that attempt to lessen its dark message (for example, Katherine giving the final speech in an ironic tone), but the issues within the plot remain.
However, Tyler doesn’t take the dark route in her modern story. The key difference in the story is that Kate is saved by her husband, Pyodr. Before her marriage, 29-year-old Kate had been stuck living at home, working her mundane and unfulfilling job at a pre-school, whilst taking care of her workaholic father and bratty younger sister. There is no real conflict with Pyodr, and certainly not the type of abuse that occurs in Shrew.
In an interview about Vinegar Girl, Tyler says, “It’s such a crazy story. People behave so inexplicably that you just know there’s another side to it. Someone’s exaggerating; somebody’s putting his own spin on things. Let’s just figure out what really happened.” While this may be true, my impression is that Tyler glossed over some key elements of Shakespeare’s original work. Granted, this is simply based off Shrew – it is not going to be exactly the same, especially set in modern times – but Tyler made a deliberate point to create certain scenes that mirror Shrew. Because of this, I can’t help but feel uneasy of how Tyler morphs her retelling into a happy story. The word “abuse” is mentioned exactly once towards the end of the book, but it seemed to be tossed in to appease those who know the story of Shrew. Additionally, it is referring to Pyodr yelling at Kate – not anything close to the abuse that occurs in Shrew.
Finally, I was displeased with the lack of depth within the book. In an attempt to lighten the type of story she is telling, Tyler lightens the complexity of her characters. There were many I wanted to get to know better. For example, Kate has an obvious crush on a coworker at the pre-school, Adam. We learn very little about Adam and it would have been interesting to know more about him given Kate marries someone else. I found myself repeatedly asking at the end of the book, “But what about…?”
To summarize, Vinegar Girl is not a bad book. It has its funny and cute moments, and I greatly appreciate the scenes that coordinated with the play. I don’t feel strongly about it either way. Perhaps I have very high expectations because of my background with Shrew, and that makes me highly critical. Regardless, it is always interesting to see authors revamping classic stories. After all, Shakespeare himself did it all the time.