I was once at a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company which was aborted after the interval because the safety curtain had got stuck. My disappointment at missing the final acts was mitigated by the fact that the play being performed was The Taming of the Shrew: one of his more challenging plays for anyone with even the most watered-down feminist inclinations. So I was intrigued to discover that, as part of Hogarth Press’s Initiative to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, prolific novelist Anne Tyler, author of A Spool of Blue Thread, had been commissioned to come up with a twenty-first century rewrite.
Anne Tyler has done a magnificent job of updating Shakespeare’s problematic play, while remaining largely faithful to the original story. While, at first, it seems she’s come to this project with her tongue firmly in her cheek, with exaggerated characterisation and not-so-subtle humour, by the end, I was totally convinced and moved by the denouement. The shrew-tamer’s misogyny is replaced by language and cultural difference, as well as shock at the kidnap of the laboratory mice; the shrew’s subjugation swapped for an analysis of gender differences in emotional literacy.
I also came to appreciate the humour, once I overcame my concern that Kate’s lack of friends or ambition might be indicative of undiagnosed depression, and/or an attachment disorder, especially given that her mother was thought to have withdrawn into herself after her birth. Dr Battista’s systems for reducing the effort of housework, including never unloading the dishwasher, reminded me of Cheryl in The First Bad Man, as well as one of my friends who also developed a computer-generated shopping list organised around the layout of the supermarket as a way of ensuring her husband did his fair share of the work.
Vinegar Girl is that rare thing: a light summer read that doesn’t leave you feeling you’ve overdosed on sun and sangria. As usual, my review copy came from the publishers. I’m now keen to sample some of the other books in the series.
I read and reviewed this book a month ago, but have been hanging on for a suitable opportunity to post it. The time seems right, as I’m just returning to my blogligations after a few days away from my desk. I thought I was being clever to schedule my post on writing while walking to appear following a day roaming the moors, but hadn’t anticipated the stronger connection with what I was doing at the exact moment my words were launched into the blogosphere. A few hours in to a three-day music course, I was trying to explain to a friend that my disorientation in the queue for tea (although interestingly, I had no such difficulties helping myself to a biscuit) was because, as an extreme introvert, I was overwhelmed by the intensity. A migraine the following morning signalled that I should have acceded to my limits and left early.
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Despite that, I enjoyed the musical activities, all on a Shakespearean theme. Although we didn’t get to sing anything from Kiss Me Kate, the orchestra did a fabulous medley of Cole Porter’s tunes, which gives me a good enough link to The Vinegar Girl.
While the attitudes to women portrayed in the play on which both are based appear outdated, the fellow who penned them is still celebrated today. Shakespeare might be long dead, but he’s no dinosaur. But fossils are the subject of the latest Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge. (Apologies if you can hear the creak of the links straining: the segue was much smoother in my head.)
“Let me carry that!”
She’d appreciated the man’s assistance earlier, when the ticket machine regurgitated her last pound coin. But now she wondered if he were some dinosaur hunting damsels in distress.
He held out a segment of grey beef rock, marked like a ram’s horn. “One tiny ammonite in three hours!” His gaze embraced her clanking hoard. “You’ve obviously got the knack.”
Her body ached from tapping at the limestone. It was a long trek to the car with a heavy sack dragging on her shoulders.
“Thanks.” She’d always rebuff misogyny, but manners merited a smile.