To think I’d never read an Anne Tyler novel until now.
What an omission.
We chose “Vinegar Girl” to read in our Delhi book club this month, and what a nice read it is, too.
Hmm…”nice”. Not a very literary word, agreed.
What a fun book. Is that a little better?
“Vinegar Girl” is a contemporary re-working of “The Taming of the Shrew” with the main character called – yes, indeed – Kate.
To spare you from a listing here of all the clever word-play & references to Shakespeare, just let me tell you that the 21st century Baltimore names are affectionate nods in the direction of their historical counterparts.
It is a long time since a novel has made me laugh out loud, and that’s always such a lovely feeling, and “Vinegar Girl” is, indeed, a fun, clever, witty read.
Kate is prickly, a bit galumphing, and resigned to her uneventful life as a teaching assistant in a pre-school. She has her moments though – I love the scene where she tells a class of four year olds that pasta smells like wet dog:
“How could you not like pasta?” Jason asked finally.
“It smells like wet dog,” Kate told him. “Haven’t you noticed?”
“Eew!” everyone said.
They lowered their faces to their plates and took a sniff.
“Right?” Kate asked.
They all looked at each other.
“It does,” Jason said.
I won’t plot-spoil, but Pyotr Shcherbakov is a cracker of a character from the very first second we meet him :
“This is Pyoder Cherbakov,” her father told her.
“Pyotr,” the man corrected him, allowing no space at all between the sharp-pointed ‘t’ and the ruffly, rolling ‘r’. And ‘Shcherbakov’ explosively spitting out the mishmash of consonants.”
Pyotr’s language, both his use thereof and his pronunciation, is a delightful leit motiv running through the book:
“He had trouble with ‘th’ sounds, Kate noticed. And his vowels didn’t seem to last long enough. She had no patience with foreign accents.”
He constantly quotes proverbs from his country, much to Kate’s exasperation:
“In my country they have proverb: ‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.”
This was intriguing. Kate said, “Well, in my country they say that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
“Yes, they would,” Pyotr said, mysteriously.
Pyotr absorbs language greedily, especially idioms, and in one scene when everyone else eats burgers, he orders a complicated chichi meal :
“The waiter when he came to our table: he talked so complicated. He said, ‘Like to tell you guys about a few specials this evening…” Pyotr had the waiter’s Baltimore accent down pat; it was uncanny. “Then he said things very long and combined; he said the free-range and the stone-ground and the house-cured until I am vertiginous. So I just repeated what came last. ‘The veal cheeks on a bed of puréed celeriac’, I repeated, because it was still in my ears.”
A clever, fun read.
If I have one reservation, it is the Epilogue. A wee bit too twee.
But that really is a small reservation
Do yourself a favour and read “Vinegar Girl” – and if you want to order it right now, couldn’t be easier – just click on the link below: