Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

9781781090329In Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello is transplanted to a school in 1970s Washington DC.

This is not a radical reimagining of Shakespeare’s play, and for those enamoured with the classic work, Chevalier’s tale will hold few surprises. Which isn’t to say New Boy won’t resonate with such readers, just that you’ll be reading with a dreadful sense of inevitability burdening your conscious. Thankfully the dynamics and anachronisms of this retelling work wonderfully, and the transposition of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and so forth, into adolescents, is superbly effective.

Son of a Ghanian diplomat, Osei Kokote arrives at his fifth school in as many years, cognisant of what must be done if he is to survive his first day. There’s a lot of politics involved in being the “new kid,” especially when the colour of your skin is different to everybody else’s. He needs an ally: someone to tie him into the social fabric. He finds that person in Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student, Ian, is apoplectic at this budding relationship, and begins scheming. Come the end of this school day, the friendship between the black boy and the perfect little princess will be in ruins, and the impact of their decimation will ripple through the lives of pupils and teachers alike.

Some readers will bemoan the closeness to which New Boy adheres to the original work, but thanks to the richness of this young cast, and Chevalier’s majestic ability to transport readers back to the playground, with all its heightened drama, this latest instalment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series is a must-read. It will certainly rank as one of my favourite books of the year.

ISBN: 9781781090329
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x 14mm)
Pages: 192
Imprint: Hogarth
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 11-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

9781781090190Anne Tyler’s retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew sits comfortably in rom-com territory, sparked to life by the authors gift to produce genuine moments of hilarity. Yes, the plot is waif-thin, and its surprises are few, but Vinegar Girl is like a warm hug, and you won’t want to leave its embrace.

I read The Taming of the Shrew many years ago, and wasn’t especially enamoured by it, nor the supposed masterful adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, which my peers have been pushing on me since its 1999 release. Vinegar Girl ended up in my hands because Anne Tyler’s name was attached – just as Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet will end up in my reading pile purely because of her literary clout. So The Taming of the Shrew holds no special place in my heart, all I really expected from Vinegar Girl was what’s promised on the blurb: a witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. And that’s what I got.

Kate Battista is our lead, and she’s not in a great place when the novel begins, stuck running home for her eccentric scientist father and haughty younger sister, Bunny. Work doesn’t offer much solace either. While her pre-school class adores her – Kate works as a teacher’s assistant since she quit studying – their parents, and the school staff, don’t appreciate her forthright nature, and she’s on shaky ground with the principal. At the age of 29, Kate feels chewed and spat out: she’s coasting on a wave to oblivion. Her father has his own problems. After years on the periphery of the elite academic circles – a lonely wilderness – he is on the verge of a breakthrough. Trouble is, his young lab assistant, Pyotr, who is vital to the success of Dr. Battista’s project, is about to be deported to Russia. So Kate’s father develops an outrageous plan to keep Pyotr in the country: an impromptu marriage, with his eldest daughter the bride.

The comedy revolves around Kate – a wholly independent woman – dealing with these two men in her life desperately trying to placate her immediate anger, then gradually chip away at her sovereignty. The Taming of the Shrew has always been burdened by its inherent sexism, but in Tyler’s adaptation Kate never loses her independence, or has her idiosyncrasies tamed. In fact, come the final pages, when Vinegar Girl pulls away from its warm embrace you’ve been enjoying, you can’t help but feel satisfied and uplifted. Because at its heart, this is a feel-good story about finding a mate who loves you for who you are. Finding love isn’t about reformatting your personality to suit another’s; it’s about finding that perfect match, whose eccentricities parallel your own. And sometimes the way in which this happens, the way in which you meet – as is the case for Kate – is improbable, and on reflection, preposterous. And makes for one hell of a good read.

ISBN: 9781781090190
ISBN-10: 178109019X
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x 17mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Hogarth
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 16-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom