Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance, Retelling Publication.Date September 23rd 2014 Pages: 496 Published By: Thomas Dunne Books Author Kate Forsyth Bitter Greens on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens...
After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.
Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.
Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.
"All day, all day I brush
My golden strands of hair;
All day I wait and wait …
Ah, who is there?
Who calls? Who calls? The gold
Ladder of my long hair
I loose and wait … and wait …
Ah, who is there?
She left at dawn … I am blind
In the tangle of my long hair …
Is it she? the witch? the witch?
Ah, who is there?"
"My name meant strength. I would be strong."
"These three things were true:
Her name was Margherita.
Her parents had loved her.
One day, she would escape.."
It is January 1697 when 47-year-old French novelist, Charlotte-Rose de la Force, finds herself in a bit of a pickle. Due to gossip and scandalous rumors about her, King Louis XIV has banished her from Palais de Versailles and forced her to take to the Benedictine abbey of Gercy-en-Brie or risk losing her pension. ("Perhaps my tongue – and my quill – had grown a little too sharp.") We first meet her as she travels to the convent in a carriage, accompanied by her maid.
‘I knew a girl once who was kept locked away for years, all by herself. It’s a wonder she didn’t go mad.’I leant forward, eager for a story as always.
‘But why? Who locked her up?’
‘Her parents had sold her to a sorceress for a handful of bitter greens.’ Sœur Seraphina ran one hand through the tiny black seeds in the bag. ‘Parsley, wintercress and rapunzel. When she was twelve, the sorceress shut the girl up in a high tower built far away in a forest, in a room without a door or stair. The tower had only one narrow window, with its shutters locked tight so she could not see the sky …’
It is here, in the convent, that she hears the story she will later on retell. A story that will bring her even more fame than her scandalous short novels. A story Sœur Seraphina tells her to make her realize her situation really isn't all that bad - her "imprisonment" not all that horrible and unbearable. A story that will later on be known as the tale of Rapunzel.
"I was Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. My grandfather had been the Marshal of France, my cousin was a duke, my mother second cousin to the King himself. If I must enter a nunnery – quite against my own wishes – it would be in my finest clothes, with my head held high and no traces of tears on my face."
Mademoiselle de la Force is a delight to read about. There is nothing I appreciate more than heroines that are sassy, witty, flippant and completely unapologetic. Especially if they're not just some imaginary characters, but real historical figures. And famous writers at that! I enjoyed getting to know Charlotte and had plenty of fun reading about her scandalous life. Perhaps even too much fun. And to think that this untamed soul actually existed? That she roamed the Versailles, stirring trouble wherever she showed up? That is just absolutely fantastic!
Bitter Greens is historically accurate, at least to my knowledge (I did some "research" prior to starting the book). It is also beautifully written, with prose that is both evocative and descriptive. It's not a short novel - at 496 pages long it's really quite an exercise in arms length, but one that is completely worthwhile and very rewarding. And really, the pages just fly by, for it is also a real page-turner that reads more like a very entertaining fairy tale rather than a hard-to-digest historical fiction.
The story of Margherita, who later on becomes known as Rapunzel, is absolutely fascinating - even more interesting than the story of Charlotte herself. When it comes to fairy tales, Rapunzel is definitely my favorite one, and this retelling is the best one I've read by far. It really is well done, filled with fabulous details and well drawn characters. It's heartfelt, dark, disturbing at times, yet absolutely beautiful and mesmerizing from beginning to the end. I have learned so many things about the origins of de la Force's retelling (as well as the author herself), I feel like Rapunzel has become more of a real person than just a character from a fairy tale.
This is a magnificent book - full of substance, beautiful writing, period-appropriate language, unexpected wittiness and deliciously dark atmosphere. It's so wonderfully told, so engaging, clever and fascinating, it is a real page-turner. Completely unputdownable, but demanding to be savored and read slowly over a glass of wine. I will definitely be seeking out other books by Kate Forsyth, for she is a very talented writer.
About the Author
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling & award-winning author of thirty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 20 Novelists, and has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers, and has told stories to both children and adults all over the world.
Her most recent book for adults is a historical novel called ‘The Wild Girl’, which tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, ‘The Wild Girl’ is a story of love, war, heartbreak, and the redemptive power of storytelling, and was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013.
She is probably most famous for ‘Bitter Greens’, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. ‘Bitter Greens’ has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’, and has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award.
Her most recent book for children is ‘Grumpy Grandpa’, a charming picture book that shows people are not always what they seem.
Since ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous 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 Chain of Charms series – beginning with ‘The Gypsy Crown’ – which tells of the adventures of two Romany children in the time of the English Civil War. Book 5 of the series, ‘The Lightning Bolt’, was also a CBCA Notable Book.
Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing.
Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, ‘A Mother’s Offering to her Children’. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.
For more information please visit Kate Forsyth’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, andGoodreads.
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