Heyo! Welcome to Boozy Books! Let’s get into this.
I haven’t had the opportunity to read many of the Hogarth Shakespeare books that came out in the last couple of years. Not because they’re not available, of course, but because most of them really aren’t my cup of tea. I’m not a literary fiction kinda gal, really; I much prefer genre, particularly speculative, stuff. But my love of Shakespeare is such–and my respect for many of the authors involved in the imprint, of course–that, when I had the chance to pick one up, I did it.
Everyone here knows how we at Nerd Cactus feel about Taming of the Shrew. We have a Boozy Plays: Taming of the Shrew and an entire Monday Muse dedicated to the play, as well. There’s probably more. We liked talking about it because it’s one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays, but also one of his more interesting ones. It’s open to interpretation in so many ways. Is Petruchio a misogynist or just trying to help Kate navigate her way in a world that doesn’t want–or plan–to accept her? Which one of them is actually the shrew (yeah, we’ve seen that interpretation live). Does he enjoy visiting his tortures on Kate or are they a burden he has to force upon himself?
It’s a complex play, and because of that, it’s one of my favorites.
Which is probably why I didn’t like the book as much as I was hoping to. I feel like it took the Kate of the play and made her… not the Kate I love. And it took the Petruchio I loved and made him… a huge dick. I feel like there was an attempt to humanize Pyotr by making him a foreigner and giving him a language barrier, but that attempt comes so late in the book, it feels tacked on. The one character I really liked was Bunny, who had more agency in her few lines than Kate did in the whole damn book, which just felt wrong. Bianca isn’t the delicate flower most people think she is, but she shouldn’t be more active a character than Katherina.
Basically, the book is the play re-written with Kate’s scientist father asking her to marry his research assistant before his Visa expires. She eventually says yes because her life sucks and, hey, at least this is an opportunity to do something new and it can’t be worse than the stagnation of living in her parents’ house, right? And even though Pyotr never does anything to earn even a sliver of Kate’s respect, the book ends pretty much exactly like the play, right down to “Kiss me, Kate”. See, there are some pivotal scenes in the play that, if performed correctly, really show Kate and Petruchio coming to understand one another as equals, and I don’t think they’re there in this book.
It’s well-written. The familial relationships are amazing. There is a lot of humor, too, which I appreciate since the play is actually really damn funny. But the book takes the play at face value, and without the irony and wordplay of Shakespeare, the joy of Taming of the Shrew is lost. The play can be performed straight because doing so highlights the irony of Kate having the longest speech in the play while simultaneously saying women should shut the hell up. This book? It misses that irony in favor of the way families interact with one another. Which, in a book that wasn’t based on one of my favorite plays, would be a lot better.
Unfortunately for me (in this case), Vinegar Girl is based on Shrew, and I can’t agree with its interpretation of the play. Someone else might not have a problem with it.
Now, I suggest mead for this because it’s honey wine, and the title of the book comes from the idiom ‘you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar’. Actually, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book because vinegar girl describes Kate really well. I just wish it described the Kate of the book more.