Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (Vintage, £8.99)
Part of the “Hogarth Shakespeare” series, in which contemporary authors are commissioned to write modern retellings of the Bard’s plays, Vinegar Girl is an update of The Taming Of The Shrew. Kate Battista is a teaching assistant in a Baltimore nursery whose scientist father is on the brink of a breakthrough but is about to lose his vital assistant, Pyotr, who will be deported once his visa expires. The obvious solution is for Kate (not really shrewish, but a bit touchy) to marry Pyotr so he can get a green card. Vinegar Girl is at its best when the need to echo Shakespeare recedes and Tyler can just be herself and get on with what she does best. She’s made an agreeable romantic comedy out of something more caustic and complex, but one is still left wondering whether this project is really worth the time of talented authors like herself, Atwood and Winterson, when they could be writing original material.
Iron Towns by Anthony Cartwright (Serpent’s Tail, £8.99)
After a failed marriage and a stint playing in Finland, footballer Liam Corwen is back playing for his hometown club, Irontown FC – much like Dee Dee Ahmed, who was going places in a girl band 20 years ago, but has found herself back in the Midlands town where she started, running the pub she inherited from her dad. Home again, Liam rubs shoulders with a large cast of characters in the pub, many of them bonded by their criminal connections, and he reminisces about football. His personal decline mirroring the desolate post-industrial landscape outside, Liam’s body is covered in tattoos of old footballing heroes, and he constantly rehashes the past because the present offers so little. Unsurprisingly for a man whose previous novels include one called How I Killed Margaret Thatcher, this book is a hymn to vanished communities, a football novel of distinction which digs deep into the folklore of the Midlands to present its characters in a historical context.
The Edinburgh Of John Kay by Eric Melvin (£12.99)
There’s no shortage of books on this span of Edinburgh’s history: it’s the period in which a vast amount of the iconography and folklore we most associate with the city is rooted. However, this book has the appealing distinction of showing Edinburgh as it would have been experienced by John Kay, a barber turned caricaturist who lived from 1742 to 1826. Kay sketched all the city’s worthies, such as Adam Smith and James Hutton, sometimes just from catching sight of them in the street, as well as local characters like the Daft Highland Laird and Robert Craig, who watched the world go by from his front step. Even if one can read elsewhere about the Enlightenment, the New Town, Deacon Brodie and Robert Burns, personalising the subject in the way Eric Melvin has done in this copiously illustrated book imparts a sense of what it would have been like to live in this bustling, characterful city at such an eventful time.
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