Vinegar Girl

Vinegar_ GirlA Novel
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare, Book 3
By: Anne Tyler
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Penguin Random House Audio/Random House Audio

Release Date: June 21, 2016 
6 Hours, 1 minute

Fiction – Classics/Humorous/Literary/Contemporary Women

Audiobook  provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.


Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies
Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner. 

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

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. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?


My Take Oblong Shaped

This book demonstrates how loose an adaptations of a classic should be.  Of course, for adaptation from  a Shakespeare play into a modern novel, at least on a superficial level, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is the toughest I can think of.  I am not familiar with all of the Bard’s work, so I could be wrong.  After all, how does subjugation in a parent/child/marriage prospect relationship work?

The misogynistic comedy about the roles of individuals in a marriage in the middle ages or the Renaissance, would be easier to suit to a novel about BDSM rather than a modern family. Since the play is a classic there is no spoiler potential in an analysis.

Kate is a much put upon, socially maladjusted daughter of a self-absorbed, widowed scientist with a bubble-headed, beautiful, self-absorbed, selfish and 15 year-old sister who treats Kate as a maid and cook.  After her mother’s death and her father’s neglect Kate has become his de facto housekeeper and surrogate parent  to Bunny. Kate’s father’s research assistant, Pyotr, highly regarded in the world of research assistants, is about to lose his green card just as her father’s work is entering a critical phase.  Kate, his prickly. effective and competent daughter has no other prospects and presents an opportunity where he gets to keep it all – the housekeeping daughter and the capable assistant. Unlike TTotS a father cannot force a daughter to marry and a husband can’t. legally, mistreat her, although in some circumstances Pyotr is a little less chivalrous sometimes.  This is where the “adaptation” and “modern re-telling” come into play.  Where Petrucchio kills Kate’s angry spirit with aggressive kindness, Pyotr actually woos Kate in a charming, if culturally unusual, manner.

While we could explain away Kate’s social disability as anger, and Bunny’s self-absorption, it is also possible both are inherited or learned traits passed down from their father, and possibly their late mother too.  

In the attempt to get Kate to marry Pyotr Dr. Battista engages in actual dialog with Kate treating her like a person and daughter instead of a dogsbody. His explanation, nostalgic comments and apology for being a jerk is a tricky device to bring her around to the idea. 

Unlike the enforced marriage between Kate and Petrucchio in the original play, Pyotr seems to understand he needs to woo rather coerce Kate.  It is only when she sees Pyotr as a possible escape from the neglectful despotic family situation that Kate actually warms to the idea.

I imagine Anne Tyler ruminating with frustration over the daunting task of bringing this story to modern times. It could not have been easy to both update the important elements and make it funny in the right places as well.  But she achieves this, if not with a one to one accounting of each event in the original, but with the spirit of the story. 

TTotS is certainly misogynist  to today;s standards, and what Tyler makes it about is not subjugation of will or women’s issues, but of recognition of a situation and filling one person’s need, and in doing so, fulfilling one’s own needs as well.  Unlike Petrucchio’s breaking of Kate’s will in the original, Pyotr actually brings her into her own as a person.

Bunny also becomes a little more human throughout the book; I began to see her as a bit less idiotic. But, just a bit.

The performance by Kirsten Potter is excellent: filling Kate’s voice with just the right discordant tone of the passive aggressive Kate as well as the bored tone of  an intelligent woman doing a menial job.  Tyler imbues Pyotr  with the charm bumbling intelligent, scientist who is as cheerfully awkward as any  scientist can be.  Potter brings  out his personality with a great, if vague Eastern European accent.  This is a case where the author and narrator are on the same page.

This is an amusing piece of fiction that is sure to make you laugh and even scratch your head as you cannot help but marvel at  and analyze the adaptation.   I highly recommend the story and plan to explore other books in this series from Hogarth Press/Crown Publishing/Penguin Random House.

The Hogarth Shakespeare:

For more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s works have been performed, read, and loved throughout the world. They have been reinterpreted for each new generation, whether as teen films, musicals, science-fiction flicks, Japanese warrior tales, or literary transformations. The Hogarth Press was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917 with a mission to publish the best new writing of the age. In 2012, Hogarth was launched in London and New York to continue the tradition. The Hogarth Shakespeare project sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.

Published or coming soon:

With additional novels from Gilliam Flynn (on Hamlet 2017), Tracey Chevallier (on Othello 2017), and Jo Nesbo (on Macbeth 2018) in the works.

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