Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for the ARC of this book.
‘Vinegar Girl’ is Anne Tyler’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. I was really excited to read this book as Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors and ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (another retelling of the play) is one of my favourite films. It also has elements of the film ‘Greencard’ which I also love.
However, I found the book somewhat underwhelming. I think it’s probably because Tyler has a near impossible job. Shakespeare’s source material is so flawed from a modern feminist perspective that it would be wrong to fully reproduce a story where a woman is ‘tamed’ aka ‘abused into submission’ by her husband. Therefore, Tyler backs down from the harshest elements of the story and the result is a bit fluffy and more chick-lit than I would expect from Anne Tyler. The book doesn’t have the depth of character which Tyler usually masters.
It feels a bit light-weight. The story follows Kate (the shrew) who is asked by her father to marry his foreign lab assistant whose visa is running out. She’s not really that shrew-like as she goes along with this plan fairly easily and it all works out happily in the end. The book doesn’t really include much of the other storyline of the play where suitors vye for Kate’s sister’s attention, retaining only the dubious tutor. As a result it’s probably a little short on plot.
However, it is an easy, quick, inoffensive read which may be a good introduction to Shakespeare for younger readers who are not confident enough to tackle the source material directly.
Last Saturday my husband and I drove down to Hay-on-Wye for our annual trip to the wonderful Hay Festival.
In my experience at Hay the weather is either absolutely beautiful with the sun shining and people sunning themselves in deckchairs or there is torrential rain, huge muddy puddles and posh people wandering round in floral patterned wellies which they only get out for festivals. There is no middle ground. On this occasion, it was the later. We got drenched walking from the car to the festival site. Happily we’ve been before so we knew to wear wellies and quick drying clothes!
The rain doesn’t spoil a day at Hay; in fact there’s something quite enchanting about sitting in a tent trying to listen to a literary superstar while the rain hammers down and wind shakes the canvas around you.
This year we met up with our friends Olly and Mary. Mary was working in one of the sponsor tents so Olly had accompanied her for a couple of days. I was very jealous because they got free tickets to some of the events! It lovely to see them both although we had such a packed day of talks that I feel likely we barely had a chance to catch up with them properly.
Our first event was Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman. I picked this because I wanted to see Harkaway. I heard him on the radio when his first novel was released a few years ago and found him very funny and had been meaning to read one his books ever since. He was talking about his new novel Tigerman, happily I had received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and had just finished reading it the evening before. Read my review here. Rahman is a debut novelist, I had never heard of him before, in fact I was expecting him to be a woman! The connection between the authors’ work was quite tenuous both have background plot themes of the financial crisis and Afghanistan, although I wouldn’t say these are integral elements of Tigerman.
The event would have been more entertaining if it had just been Harkaway, his responses to questions were quick and witty whereas Rahman was a bit ponderous and meandering in his responses. Even so, it was an interesting event. Afterwards I bought a couple of Harkaway’s novels and had them signed at the bookstore. He was wearing a marvelous tiger striped tie to ‘tie-in’ with his book’s title.
Next up we went to see Cassandra Clare in conversation with her co-author and friend Sarah Rees Brennan. My poor 37 year old husband having to sit through that! I felt so sorry for him surrounded by teenage girls while two authors gossiped about how hot the characters in their books are; I really should have booked him an alternative event! However, I was quite happy.
I enjoyed listening to Cassandra and Sarah read sections from an unpublished story in the Bane Chronicles and seeing their excitement about the final installment of the Mortal Instruments series which is published today. It’s a shame there was a delay on the publishing which meant that there weren’t copies available to buy at Hay. This didn’t stop a million girls queuing to get Clare to sign her other books. The queue was so long that I went to my next event and came back to the bookshop over and hour later and they were still queuing around the corner of the tent. It was crazy! But it’s nice that Clare takes the time to talk to all the girls individually and make it worth the wait.
Next we went to see Stephen Fry interviewing Tony Fadell, one of the inventors of the iPod. This was definitely the highlight of the day! It was really fascinating. Fry is really interested in and knowledgeable about technology so they had an engrossing and revealing conversation.
After that I went to see Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie. Both have written novels set during World War I. Young’s The Heroes’ Welcome is a sequel to ‘My Dear I Wanted to Tell You’ which I read and enjoyed; and Shamsie’s previous novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize, so I was interested in listening to both of them. I thought the atmosphere was a bit flat at this event, maybe these authors were a bit tired of being on the press tour or they don’t really know each other, but there wasn’t much chemistry between them. Since the Telegraph started sponsoring Hay, there have been more of these events where they pair authors up and it’s a bit like watching a tennis match as they take it in turns to answer questions. These events often don’t work as well as when the focus is on a single author; Hay was definitely better when it was sponsored by The Guardian!
Our final event was a second chance to see Stephen Fry. This time he was giving a talk about Shakespeare. I was expecting him to talk about his experiences acting on Broadway in Shakespeare’s plays; however he actually gave a lecture on love in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. He has some surprising a controversial viewpoints. For example, he is convinced that Shakespeare was gay and is certain that it was definitely Shakespeare who wrote the plays (not the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe or any of the other people that conspiracy theorists suggest).
He also said that Shakespeare knew that he would still be being read all these years later and that that does not mean he was arrogant, he was just that good. I didn’t agree with that assertion on any level, but it made me think.
A fun day out at Hay. Not quite as exciting as some previous years, but we’re going again next Saturday and I’m really looking forward to that and particularly to seeing Tom Hollander, Rob Brydon and Benedict Cumberbatch. Hopefully we’ll get to see the other side of Hay and the sun will be shining! Check back next week to hear about it in part two of my blog.