My husband and I catalog our books on LibraryThing and I often get books to review through the Early Reviewers Project. Most recently I got Anne Tyler’s re-writing of “The Taming of the Shrew”, Vinegar Girl. Why is Tyler re-writing Shakespeare? Hogarth Publishing is doing a series for the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by having well known author’s take on a variety of plays.
The Telegraph story on the series started this way
Booker Prize-winning authors Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson are to write modern prose versions of two of Shakespeare’s most widely-read plays, despite admitting they maybe “mad” to do so.
Atwood will take on The Tempest, while Jacobsen, who won the Booker Prize in 2010 for The Finkler Question, will rework The Merchant of Venice.
The story ends
The pair will now join Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, producing their updated version in time for the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 2016.
Tyler’s will take on The Taming of the Shrew, while Jeanette Winterson works with The Winter’s Tale.
A spokesman for Hogarth, the transatlantic fiction imprint of Penguin Random House, promised the publishing house was still in talks with other esteemed writers, with more expected to be added to the line-up in the coming months.
So I got Vinegar Girl to review. I started it, didn’t like anyone in the book and put it down 25 or so pages later. Maybe, I said to myself, if I read the Shakespeare I will like it better. I hadn’t read The Taming of the Shrew for decades and I found it very funny, but Kate the Shrew is almost no where to be found. The play is about Petruchio’s efforts to woo her and about the men vying for her sister.
Back to Vinegar Girl. One has to appreciate Tyler’s attempt to put Kate front and center, but it also shows the difficulties of having a central character who is grumpy and ill-tempered – although not without reason. I didn’t like Kate until the very end of the book when she is a renowned plant biologist. I don’t know if Tyler is making a statement about the importance of having a life of one’s own or not, but it certainly seems that way. But it isn’t Shakespeare who doesn’t have many women characters. Making Kate a real person who grows really is an update.
Many of the other reviewers for LibraryThing had never read Shakespeare and seemed to enjoy the book a great deal more than I. I am, however, interested enough in the series to want to read Atwood’s re-telling of The Tempest, one of my favorites.
Photograph: Alamy (from the Telegraph)