I must say that Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth, could possibly be the front-runner for the best book I read this year. It’s still early in 2013, but I can’t imagine falling in love with a book as much as I’ve fallen in love with Bitter Greens. It most certainly will go on my final list of most cherished and loved books of all time.
Of course, there is the point that I am a perpetual lover of fairy tales, vintage mostly, but also various adaptations and re-tellings. So because this novel is a re-structuring of Rapunzel, one of my favorite stories, I was already bound to have a desire for this book. However, it was more than I had expected as Forsyth has an original voice that worked to create an amazing imaginative world that one could slip into and dance around in forever. (review continued after synopsis)
Intrigued? Here’s the synopsis for Bitter Greens~
Bitter Greens is a historical novel for adults which interweaves the Rapunzel fairytale with the true story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a 17th century French writer who wrote the version of the fairytale we know best, while locked away in a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV, for her bold and unconventional views on love and society.
Charlotte-Rose has scandalized the court by falling passionately in love with a young nobleman, then dressing up as a dancing bear to rescue him from imprisonment. Banished to a strict Benedictine convent by the king, she remembers her life and loves at the magnificent and corrupt court of Versailles. Charlotte-Rose is filled at despair at her imprisonment, but she is comforted by an old nun, the apothicairesse at the convent, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the secret history of a young girl in 16th century Venice, who is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens …
Margherita’s parents love her dearly but the penalty for stealing in Venice in the late 16th century is cruel, and so they agree to give up their child at the age of seven to Selena, a courtesan whose walled garden is famous for its herbs and flowers. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Titian, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition. Selena is determined to never surrender the power that her beauty gives her, and so she turns to black magic and a spell that requires the blood of a virgin. Yet in the decadent world of Renaissance Italy, where courtesans supped with kings, where convents were hotbeds of illicit love, and where a girl’s virginity was sold many times over, how was Selena to ensure her spell would work, not just once, but over and over again? The only way was to build a tower without door or stairs, deep in the forest … and this is where she locks Margherita at the age of twelve. As Margherita grows into womanhood, she sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does and climbs her rope of hair into the tower … and so begins a beautiful love story that retells one of the world’s most mysterious and enduring fairy tales.
The story of Margherita’s escape from the tower is interwoven with flashbacks that recount Charlotte-Rose’s tragic childhood and her scandalous life at the Sun King’s glittering court, and also the dark and tragic story of the courtesan Selena and how she came to be Titian’s muse. Three women, three lives, three stories, all braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.
Using books as a magical way of escaping the stress and dealings of life, I let them carry me away in my mind. As one of Forsyth’s main protagonists, writer Charlotte Rose de la Force, also creates her own worlds in Bitter Greens by pushing open the imagined door into fantasy realms where any lovely place can be found. This is a tactic useful whether it’s 17th century France or modern times.
However, this book doesn’t just lead us on a frivolous walk of enchantment and fantasy. It carries a message about women living their dreams and hope, overcoming the gender role, being courageous and bold, and most of all love, but beyond that, also the darker emotions and desires that lead us to bad decisions and situations and how we can be redeemed or doomed.
And yes, it transported me away when I needed it most. It lead me to deeper parts of my own motherhood, womanhood, and mortal desires. It wasn’t a book to be put down, and in fact, I had to be reminded that I actually had a life outside of reading the book…..I was swept away.
I can barely begin to give this multi-layered and multifaceted novel the justice it deserves. It is just THAT good and beyond a normal review. The author may be pursuing a degree in fairy tales, but she needs to be the one being taught to those pursuing creative writing courses and literature.
In Bitter Greens, Forsyth introduces us to Charlotte Rose de la Force’s adaptation of Petrosinella from 1697, while also making our acquaintance with de la Force’s own life by making her a part of the story. Yes, it’s several stories interwoven with delicacy and grace; it’s smooth, seamless, and highly evolved. Petrosinella, with maiden Persinette, would later be adapted in German and picked up by the Grimm Brothers in the 1800s, by that time known as Rapunzel. However, the novel is not just another re-telling of Rapunzel, but an even deeper look into society and how vintage writing defines history.
Since my five-year-old is also a lover of classic fairy tales, and we’ve read as many adaptations of Rapunzel over the last few years as we can find while embracing their similarities and differences together, Bitter Greens is a novel I’ll put on the shelf to share with her when she’s old enough to read the adult content. It’s one book that will always have a place on my bookshelf and hopefully hers too. It’s timeless.
Forsyth’s subtle dissection of the culture, art, storytelling and emotions of the time within her fiction, coupled with how we retain and retell stories today, is in a class all its own. Her creation is a masterpiece of art to not get lost in a sea of ever published books. Forsyth could quite possibly be one of the best story tellers of our modern age.
Please stop by again tomorrow as I have an exclusive interview with author Kate Forsyth in which we talk about fairy tales, her writing, her poetry, and much more!!
Click on the link for Forsyth’s “behind the scenes” look at her inspiration for Bitter Greens~
Kate’s blog about researching Charlotte Rose de la Force~
UK Publication Date: February 25, 2013
Publisher: Allison & Busby
(Also published, Random House Australia)
Praise for Bitter Greens~
“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it’s one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I’ve ever read.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
“History and fairytale are richly entwined in this spellbinding story. Unputdownable!” – Juliet Marillier, author of Daughter of the Forest and Heart’s Blood
“In Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth delivers a tale of beauty, strength and gravity. Her fierce respect for the art and power of storytelling shines through every page.” – Booklover Book Reviews
Kate Forsyth, Biography~
Kate Forsyth is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 books for adults and children , translated into 13 languages. She was recently named in the Top 25 of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for many awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Gypsy Crown series of children’s historical novels. Kate’s latest novel, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelli
ng of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ and ‘an imaginative weaving of magic, fairy tale and history’. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairy tales at the University of Technology in Sydney, where she lives by the sea, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.
For more reviews of Bitter Greens as well as guest posts and interviews with author Kate Forsyth, click below:
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