Author: Kate Forsyth
Provided Synopsis: 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.
Review: I began this book with the understanding that I would be reading a re-telling of the fairy tale Rapunzel. And the story of a young girl effectively sold to a witch in Venice in exchange for a handful of bitter greens was included in this book. However, I would argue that Bitter Greens is not so much a story about Rapunzel but a historical fiction account of the French noblewoman who recorded the story within the walls of a convent she was exiled to. The journey of Margherita was good, yet it was less vibrant in the wake of the lives of Charlotte-Rose and the witch at the heart of the tale.
If, like myself, you are a fan of re-told fairy tales then I would recommend this book in some respects. The beginning of the tale as Margherita is a young child with her parents, then sold, and then taken to a convent until she is of age to provide offerings to the witch was fascinating. The section of the book that provided insight into the witch’s origins and the reasons behind her motivations was also a highlight of this re-telling. But it was when Margherita meets her savior that the fairy tale began to fail me. I was ambivalent to the connection between the two and I could practically find myself cringing at the dialogue from this point onwards. There was also the factor of the detailing of Charlotte-Rose’s life becoming more and more engrossing to the point I only wanted to return to her world.
Because the historical fiction aspect of this book shined. Yes, it could be a bit hard to follow at times when the narrative would jump years forward or backwards, which made it incredibly important to be aware of the dates noted in the headers of sections. But to hear about this female writer’s life in the Sun Court of King Louis was a treat that grew on me as time went by. I did not receive what I had expected from this book, yet there were plenty of moments to reconcile me with the shift of my expectations.