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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 20 March 2017

"Vinegar Girl" by Anne Tyler

Kate is a forthright young lady with a 'take me or leave me' attitude. She lives with her scientist father and her flirty schoolgirl sister Bunny in a joyously bizarre household governed by dad's scientific 'systems' (such as making a nutrient balanced meat mash one day and eating it throughout the week). Her dad is reaching the end of many years research; his foreign research assistant Pyotr Shcherbakov is nearing the end of his three year immigration visa and dad is frantic that he will be deported. So he concocts a scheme in which Kate marries Pyotr for the immigration status. Which mortifies and infuriates Kate as much as Pyotr intrigues her.

The plot is (loosely) based on The Taming of the Shrew. The problem is that Petruchio in the original 'tames' his Kate as a man might break a horse and takes pride in being rough with her. Tyler has to make Pyotr at least a little bit likeable so that a modern reader can believe that Kate might come to like Pyotr and she doesn't have Shakespeare's expedient of making Kate 'shrewish' and 'unwomanly' so that his male patriarchal audience could despise her and root for Petruchio. That Tyler does such a great job is cause for celebration although she necessarily has to leave a lot of the old story behind.

Although both books share an acute observation of the little domestic routines of everyday life, this book is quite different from the other Tyler I have read: A Spool of Blue Thread. But they're both great in their own way. Vinegar Girl is much funnier though. There were moments of genius comedy, mostly found in the interaction of two people, especially Kate's reactions to the pre-schoolers she cares for. I loved it.

Two girls chatting:
"I could tell he wanted to ask me," one was saying, "because he kept clearing his throat in the way they do, you know? But then not speaking."
"I love when they're so shy," the other said
Perfectly observed dialogue including the 'you know' and 'I love when' rather than 'I love it when'. And perfect observation of courting men. Tyler really does have a soft spot for how hard it is to be a man. (p 4)

Pyotr's lunch: "two eggs and then a banana" a lover breadcrumb of his intentions. (p 9)

"She mistakenly kicked a tuft of grass instead of the bottle cap, and a child waiting for his turn at the swings looked startled." (p 78) This has nothing to do with advancing the plot and it doesn't really help character either but it is such a human moment that it adds more verisimilitude than a list of what is in Kate's pockets.

"this morning one of my boys sharpened his index finger in the pencil sharpener" (p 79) I was expecting Adam, who says this, to have more of a role, perhaps turning up at the church to announce that he loved Kate so she realised what a mistake she was making. I must stop writing my own plots.

"Inwardly he was formulating thoughts every bit as complicated and layered as her own." The moment when Kate realises this rather comical sounding foreigner who can't speak English very well is actually a person in his own right. This works at every level. (p 104)

"vulnerable-looking bare neck" (p 137) In A Spool of Blue Thread the character Stem is nicknamed after his vulnerable-looking neck. Is this something in Tyler?

"Kate almost looked behind her for someone else; it seemed so unlikely that she could be 'our' Kate." (p 180)

"I've always had a very good relationship with my mice"
"Well, better with them than with no one, I suppose" 
(p 243)

March 2017; 263 pages

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