VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Light and trite, but the perfect antidote and very welcome relief after reading the epic, depressing, but compelling 'Do Not Say We Have Nothing', shortlisted for 2016 Man Booker prize. This little gem will probably never make any prize lists, but delightful to read nevertheless, which after all is what we want in a book - something to entertain, take us away, and leave a sense of satisfaction on completion.

This novel will not go down as one of Anne Tyler's best works. She is one of a number of authors asked to do a modern retelling of a Shakespeare play to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. For whatever reason, she has rewritten 'The Taming of the Shrew'. There are a few links with the play - the lead character is unmarried reluctant bride Kate Battista, she has a younger sister Bunny, her father, Louis, is a widower, there is an unlikely suitor, a few quotes from the play are thrown around, including 'Kiss Me Kate'.

The whole point of the play is to marry the high spirited, belligerent, difficult Katherine off to whoever will have her, so that her younger, more beautiful and desirable sister Bianca can marry one of the many suitors keen on her. I was a little disappointed that the modern Kate was not nearly as shrewish, feisty or stroppy as Shakespeare created her. Here, in her late twenties, Kate seems to have settled into spinsterish-mode - bit frumpy, resigned to her life as a preschool assistant, caring for her scientist father and parenting brattish 15 year old sister Bunny. Not much to look forward to, not much achieved, therefore not much really to tame. Life is thrown into disarray when Louis realises that the visa of his brilliant Russian assistant, Pyotr, is about to expire, and to keep him in the country, he needs a green card, and how to get a green card? Marry a local. And so a plot is engineered, in a vague, haphazard and eccentric way, to have Kate marry Pyotr.

Complications ensue, hilariously brought about by Bunny, who declares herself to be vegan, with a name like Bunny! She thinks Kate is crazy for not marrying for love, and with her animal activist boyfriend any chance of a marriage could be derailed. Throw in Kate's disinterest in the whole wedding fiasco hijacked by well meaning relatives, her crush on a fellow teacher, and general lack of apathy it is a wonder any marriage ever happens. Which of course it does. And there is a rather nice little epilogue some fifteen years down the track.

I did enjoy this, however I did get the feeling that the author's heart was not entirely in her project. It felt like the whole thing had been rustled up, thrown together,  as if it was a bit of homework, meeting a deadline, just a little lazy. Anne Tyler is the most wonderful writer, an acute observer of the dynamics within family relationships. This novel has touches of all that, but lacks the refinement and delicate touch that she brings to her character interactions. I felt a bit cheated.

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