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(original 2012; edition 2012)
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There’s something mesmerising about Kate’s writing, something that weaves together the true story of a wonderful woman with the mythology of Rapunzel so you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. The books is set out as a story within a story around a memoir, and I am impressed with the clarity with which it is delivered.
I was sucked into the story literally from the first chapter: Charlotte-Rose is a powerful narrator with whom I sympathised with instantly. I found Margherita’s parts of the story wonderful as well - they are thrilling and bittersweet, but brilliantly written. I struggled with Selena’s section simply because I couldn’t imagine the difficulties in her life and the sacrifices she had to make simply to survive. These are three extremely powerful characters, each with their own trials and tribulations in life, linked through fate and magic and dark secrets across the ages.
I’ve seen many a book review which uses the words “lush prose” and am always mystified by the idea. But if there’s a book that has prose that can be described as such, it exists in Bitter Greens. The settings of the story are vivid and well researched: Kate has accurately captured the landscapes, cultures and ambiance of the cities she describes in her book.
Bitter Greens is a excellent piece of historical fiction, one of the best I’ve ever read, and Kate shows her mastery at writing across genres in this book. A book you definitely need to pick up and read if you get the chance!
You can read more of my reviews at
Speculating on SpecFic
| Apr 18, 2012 |
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Braids together the tales of French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a young girl with burnished red hair named Margherita, and the witch who holds her captive. Bitter Greens is a historical fiction cum fairytale retelling of Rapunzel, and it is richly woven together with attention to detail and beautiful prose. I found it a little wearing after a while, but I don’t often have the patience for historical fiction. Either way, I truly enjoyed it and am glad to have read it.
| Sep 3, 2015 |
Bitter Greens is a wonderfully told story - Kate Forsyth did a masterful job of weaving together the tale of Charlotte Rose, a historical figure who authored the Rapunzel fairy tale, the Rapunzel tale itself (here called Persinette) with elements of romance and magic, along with the story of La Strega Bella (the witch who imprisoned Persinette. The descriptions of 1500's Venice and court life at Versailles were wonderful. This was one of those books where I felt like I was right there watching it all. There were some dark elements - this is not a Disney version of a fairy tale! That said, it was a lovely, well written book.
| May 5, 2015 |
Charlotte-Rose de la Force was in the Sun King's court and at one stage was exiled to a convent. She wrote a story called Persinette which was used by the Brother's Grimm as Rapunzel. It's a story that appears to have started in Italy and there have often been questions about how Charlotte-Rose encountered the story. This story uses the exile in the convent to allow the transmission of the story. This does ignore the fact that Charlotte-Rose was interested in stories and that there were embassies and visitors from other countries some of whom may have told stories if prompted. Still the conceit is fun and the story unfolds well. I just didn't care about Charlotte-Rose, I wanted to know how the various elements of the Rapunzel story were incorporated into the story but I didn't care really about the characters.
Entertaining but it just didn't grasp me.
| May 5, 2015 |
A modern re-telling of the tale of Rapunzel, intermingled with a fictional account of the life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who is purported to be the author of the original tale. This was just OK for me. I liked the Rapunzel tale, but had a hard time really getting into most of the rest of the story.
| Mar 30, 2015 |
Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been expelled from the court of Louis XIV, condemned to live in a nunnery devoid of glamour, intrigue or excitement. Adrift and desperate, she can see no future for herself and her talents for stories and imagination, until a fellow Sister befriends her, telling her the story of a child with the most beautiful hair, condemned to a tower.
As the story of Margherita's imprisonment is revealed to Charlotte, so the life of the sorceress who has captured her is also recounted. From the elegant surroundings of her early childhood in Venice to her role as a witch's apprentice, the reasons behind her kidnap of the young girl unfold and become crystal clear.
Charlotte herself lies awake at night and considers her own life, the relationships that went wrong and the mistakes she made, she searches for beauty, salvation, and the age old stories of love.
All three of the women whose lives are depicted are fascinating and unique in their own ways, spanning a variety of situations and social classes, with the underlying theme that of a search for betterment and security holding them together.
Brutal at times, with elements of magic thrown in with intricate historical detail, there was only one moment that I felt the fantasy aspects let the story down every so slightly. Persecution plays its part in the storyline, particularly as religious fervour sweeps the Continent and fear of the supernatural looms over all their heads.
This has all the best ingredients of historical fiction: intriguing and believable characters, fascinating stories and a wealth of research and detail carrying the plot along perfectly. With the focus on women striving to make their way and earn power in a world that denies them that, it is easy to see how some are led to desperate measures. There is a skill in making even those characters who commit unpleasant acts appealing, and Forsyth achieves it.
Despite the occasional irritation with the magic, most of the time it is well-integrated into the history, and this is a very very enjoyable book.
| Mar 2, 2015 |
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force was the 17th Century author of fairy tales, including the a story of Rapunzel. Forsyth intertwines historical fiction about a real woman with a magical retelling of Rapunzel with an exploration of women's lives.
| Jan 29, 2015 |
Partly based on the true life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force—a cousin of the Sun King, Louis XIV—who was banished from the court of Versailles by the King for a series of scandalous affairs to live in a nunnery, this book interweaves her own life story with the fairy tale we've come to know as Rapunzel. According to Wikipedia, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, or Mademoiselle de La Force was a French novelist and poet, and her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story Rapunzel, though it seems this story originally came from an Italian folk tale which Mademoiselle de La Force would have had no way of becoming acquainted with, and Kate Forsyth uses her ample skill as a novelist to suggest how this now famous fairy tale might have been transmitted to her.
When Charlotte-Rose arrives at the convent where she is to spend the rest of her life locked up and isolated from the rest of the world, she meets with a harsh and brutal reception. Stripped of her luxurious court garments and shorn of her cascading locks of hair, then systematically bullied by her overseer, she is eventually aken under the wing of an old nun, Soeur Seraphina, who comforts her with an old Italian folk tale about a young girl who was taken from her parents because her father has stolen a handful of bitter greens; before little Margherita was born, her mother nearly died during the pregnancy because she was unable to eat. At her request, her husband stole a handful of herbs from the garden of the renowned courtesan next door. According to the story, Selena Leonelli was a famous courtesan in the Venice in the 16th century, the favourite model of a great painter, and by that point also a powerful witch with dark powers. When she catches Margherita's father stealing the herbs, she threatens him with declaring him to the authorities, the punishment for theft being the cutting off of both hands. A bargain is made, and so the parents must agree to eventually give their daughter away. On her seventh birthday, Margherita is taken away, first to a convent to receive a proper education and then into a tower where she is shut off for years, her only visitor being Selena Leonelli on monthly calls and blood rites. There are monstrous secrets hidden in the tower, which has no doors nor stairs, and Margherita must drag around yards of hair which the witch uses to climb up to the only window every month, and the only company the girl has the rest of the time is her own beautiful voice to distract herself, with the hope that someday somebody might hear her and come to her rescue.
Kate Forsyth has a gift for storytelling and we get a narrative from three points of view: there is Charlotte-Rose, locked away in the convent and looking back on her youthful follies and excesses; Margherita in her tower, becoming a woman and looking back on her childhood while learning to outsmart a powerful witch; and Selena Leonelli, telling her own fascinating life story starting in the plague-ridden Venice of the early 16th century and explaining how and why she became Margherita's jailer. The long narrative of her life is perhaps the most fascinating of all.
I haven't yet read Angela Carter, and looking forward to redressing that omission, but from the descriptions I've read about the way she retells fairy tales, it seems Kate Forsyth has also adopted a very modern, adult and feminist point of view which is rich, dark and fascinating. Certainly miles away from the Disney folks and their ilk. A thrilling book with which to start the year, and heartily recommended.
Here's a nice little
on youtube. Spoiler-free!
| Jan 8, 2015 |
The story of Rapunzel is reinvented in
, interwoven with the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the French woman responsible for recording the version of the fairy tale known around the world today. As Charlotte-Rose stews in a convent where she was banished by the King of France, one of the nuns entertains her by sharing a story about a powerful sorceress in Venice who imprisoned young women in a tower so that she could draw their life force and attain eternal youth. Charlotte-Rose also muses over her lost life at the French court, her failed romances and constant struggle to afford the lavish lifestyle required to keep up with her fellow courtiers. As the two parallel stories unfold, the common threads of desire, love, and black magic bind them together.
Half of this book is brilliant. This is one of the best reinventions of a fairy tale that I’ve read in a long time. I love Forsyth’s conception of the witch and how she integrated the character into 16th century Venetian society. Rapunzel – called Margherita – is sold to the witch by her parents and trapped in a doorless tower. Her imprisonment is very realistic and her struggle to make her food stores and other supplies last between visits from the witch really drive home the character’s desperate situation. A gristly discovery in the bottom of the tower further reveals the witch’s obsession with youth and the great lengths she will go to keep it.
I love the Rapunzel story.
The part that doesn’t work as effectively is the life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force. While the author of “Persinette”, forerunner of “Rapunzel”, was surely an interesting woman, the frequent detours into her life seem disruptive and tend to really slow down the pace. Each time she appears, we’re introduced to a new cast of historical figures, and keeping track of the rapidly expanding cast can be challenging after an extended detour into the secondary Rapunzel plot. Carlotte-Rose’s life also has the chaotic habit of jumping around in time, further adding to the confusion.
Still, it’s an enjoyable novel – one of the best I’ve read this year, in fact. I would definitely recommend it for the revision of the Rapunzel story – if you don’t like historical fiction set in the French court, just skip those chapters completely. But if you are curious about the life and love affairs of the French poet and authoress Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the way her life is integrated with the work for which she is best known today is a truly lovely accomplishment.
| Dec 23, 2014 |
Previously I had read Forsyth’s Rhiannon’s Ride trilogy and really loved it. I also have her Witches of Eilean series on my bookshelf waiting to be read. When I saw Forsyth had written a book that was a historical fiction retelling of Rapunzel I was incredibly excited. Unfortunately this book was just not my thing, I read the first 200 pages then decided it was time to stop struggling through it and set it aside.
This book tells the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a French poet who has been banished from the Court of Versailles to a desolate abbey. There Charlotte suffers many indignities and finally meets an old nun named Sœur Seraphina. Sœur Seraphina tells her the story of Margherita, a young girl whose father stole parsley from a ccourtesannamed Selena Leonelli. In payment Selena wanted to take Margherita once she comes of age and lock her in a tower.
This book was just not my thing. My first problem with it was way too much switching between timeframes and characters. First you here from Charlotte-Rose in the present time, then you hear from Seraphina who jumps you back in time to Margherita’s story. Within Margherita’s story you go back and forth in time as well. Then Margherita's mother tells a story that takes you further back in time, then you jump forward in time to Margherita's present. After all that suddenly you are back reading from Charlotte-Rose’s perspective and she takes us back in time to her childhood. I kept having to go back and forth between parts of the book and compare time frames, it was frustrating.
My second problem with this book is that it reads more like a French history book more than a fictional novel. Especially the parts from Charlotte Rose’s POV are filled with tons of six part French names and gossip about the nobility at the time. I am honestly not all the great with names and there was no way I was going to keep track of the plethora of foreign names. I suppose I could have started a chart in excel or something, but there were just so many of them. I am taking 10-20 new names per page at times. If I want to read a French history book I will read one, but reading a fairy tale retelling that sounds more like a French history book was just not my thing.
All the above resulted in a book that, while beautifully written, moved incredibly slow and was incredibly slow to read. I just kept falling asleep while reading this book. I finally had to give up the struggle because I just couldn’t get through more than 10 pages at a time without falling asleep.
Despite the above complaints, I am not saying this is a bad book. The language and description are incredibly beautiful. Forsyth obviously put a ton of work into researching this novel. I was intrigued at the idea of going back to the roots of the story of Rapunzel and really digging into the reason behind its writing. It’s an excellent idea. However there was just too much detail here and it’s detail that isn’t needed to make a good and entertaining story.
I would also say this is more appropriate for adult readers. There are a number of deviant sexual exams/scenes that wouldn’t be appropriate for younger readers.
Overall this book was not for me. The numerous changes in timeframe and viewpoint were hard to follow and at times this reads more like a French history book than a fantasy novel. That is not to say this book is a bad book. Forsyth writes beautifully (if with a bit too much detail) and she obviously put a ton of work into researching French history when she wrote this novel. However the result is a novel that is very slow-paced with excruciating detail. Those interested in French history will find a lot here to love. Those interested in an engaging fairy tale retelling should look elsewhere. For me this was a did not finish.
| Oct 26, 2014 |
A truly beautiful tale! Kate Forsyth mixes the storylines of Rapunzel with that of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, one of the earliest authors of that fairy tale. Moving between Renaissance Italy and the splendid court of Louis XIV, Bitter Greens is a tale of love, loss, and finding one's way through the struggles of life. This is definitely the best retelling of Rapunzel I have ever read.
| Oct 20, 2014 |
Have you ever wondered where nursery rhymes or fairytales come from?? I think everyone does. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth tells us about the fairytale of Rapunzel. I know I learned this as a young child. The book tells the story of three women, Charlotte-Rose de la Force who is cousin of the Sun King, trying to find a man to marry her but without money that is pretty slim, She is a novelist and poet and her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette, which became Rapunzel. She displeases the King and is banished from court, sent to a Benedictine Abbey where she is befriended by a nun who tells her the story of a girl, Margherita, who is sold by her parents to a woman named Selena because her Margherita's father steals some bitter greens out of Selena's garden. Selena puts her in a doorless tower where the only way for the witch to get out is to have Margherita let her hair down the window. Margherita desperately wants to get out of the tower but she is afraid. Selena's spell is powerful and Margherita feels she will never leave the tower, until her singing brings a young man to the tower.
In a way the story line seems convoluted but as you get further into the book the reader understands how all three women are connected. A beautifully written novel about the court of France, scheming men and women, black arts, witches spells and ultimately about love. An awesome historical novel of which the likes I have never read. Interesting telling of a fairytale about a real woman in 1700's France. I highly recommend this book.
| Oct 19, 2014 |
If you are a fan of fairy tales and historical stories then you need to grab a copy of this book. I like fairly tales and do on occasion like to read historical stories. It just depends on the historical story. Wow. Just Wow. This book had everything...great characters, wonderful story telling, a nice flow from past to present and character to character. Although I must admit that I absolutely enjoyed reading about Margherita the most. Her story was the most interesting and the main focal point. Charlotte was great too. It just seemed like when the story would flash back to her, it was for just brief periods of time. Even Selena's story seemed to be expanded on. Overall, I did still enjoy this book a lot. There is nothing "Bitter" about this book. Just an amazing book and one of the best of 2014!
| Oct 15, 2014 |
History, fairy tale and magic combine in this enchanting story to tell about the lives of three extraordinary women. Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a lady in waiting in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. After a few too many scandalous love affairs, she is forced to retire into a strict abbey. While at the abbey, Charlotte-Rose meets one Sister, Sœur Seraphina, who takes her under her wing while doing garden chores and tells Charlotte-Rose the story of the Petrosinella and la Strega. Charlotte Rose, Sœur Seraphina and Petrosinella all share something in common and find comfort within the story. The beautiful story also prompts Charlotte-Rose to write it down, becomming the author of the story later known as Rapunzel.
I love stories like this, not only a fairy tale retelling, but the history behind the writing of the fairy tale and a bit of magic. I was intrigued by each of the women's stories as they were unraveled. Charlotte-Rose de la Force continually lived up to her name, continually pushing the boundaries for a woman of her time. La Strega, or Selena is a character that I ended up completely understanding, even though she was the witch. Petrosinella or Margherita, was the perfect Rapunzel, but one that saved herself in the end. The way that all of these characters stories were told, jumping back and forth through time, just kept me wanting more and constantly saying ' but what happened next?' The fairy tale was perfect, but even more I enjoyed the real history behind it's writer, I had no idea of the complicated origins of the story. The Court of the Sun King was also brought alive through Charlotte-Rose's eyes as Louis XIV grows up, goes through several mistresses and makes difficult decisions of religion.
A must read for historical fiction and fairy tale fans
| Oct 13, 2014 |
I knew nothing of the origins of the fairy tale Rapunzel. It was just one of those snippets of a story I had in my head of a young woman in a tower with a LOT of hair. To tell the truth I really didn't know the entire story. I do love this current genre of book in which the old familiar stories are given a whole new life. Bitter Greens does not only bring the reader Rapunzel but her author, Charlotte Rose de la Force.
Charlotte Rose was a regular at the court of Louix XIV until she does something to get on his bad side and she is given the choice of exile or the nunnery. She chooses the nunnery figuring that Louis will soon change his mind. What she soon learns is that she has been sent to a falling down establishment and every vestige of her former life is taken away from her. She cannot even write letters to her family to beg them to help her.
Charlotte is slow to adjust to her new situation and is abused by her immediate superior. She is befriended by one of the older nuns and this friendship will be what saves her. The friendship and the stories she tells.
I started reading this book and it was so hard to put down. I found myself wrapped up in both stories; Charlotte Rose's and Rapunzel's. The story is told in alternating times and different voices and it does move back and forth between them all but I didn't find it to be all that confusing as Charlotte Rose told her own tale so it was easy to realize the change. I loved her character as created by Ms. Forsyth - she was so bold and forthright and yet still so much in need of love.
The pages flew by and as I reached the end I found myself wishing that it had not ended. Wanting to continue on in this woman's world because as dreary as it was in that nunnery I didn't want to leave the bright light that was Charlotte Rose and her personality. I'll be keeping this one to read again. I suspect it will become a favorite.
| Sep 30, 2014 |
When I first heard about Kate Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS, it was around this time last year and really wished it was available in the US, but alas it wasn’t. Fast forward to later this year and imagine my surprise and delight to open my mailbox and there waiting for me was a review copy! I adored BITTER GREENS and took my time reading it because I wanted to savor it and hoped it would never end. Ah, Rapnzel! What a beautiful enchanting story Forsyth has given us.
As for characterization, we have three strong female characters. With regards to the narrative, Forsyth interweaves three narratives; two in the past with one in the present. Set in the 16th and 17th century, BITTER GREENS begins with our main heroine, Charlotte-Rose de la Force‘s story. From there we are given the back-story as to why she’s on her way to a convent and we realize she’s been banished from court. We quickly get to know her and she’s a little hard to like at first. She’s strong, outspoken, but it’s also easy to put ourselves in her shoes and you quickly realize she must have been so scared! Her sheer determination to make the best of what she’s given makes Charlotte such a great character. Then we have Margherita’s tale and she’s our Rapunzel. I just loved her! It’s so easy to fall in love with her and applaud her determination to go back to her parents. In most Rapunzel tales (even retellings), the parents aren’t given much of a back-story, but Forsyth lets us spend time with Margherita and her parents. In the end, you too don’t want them to lose her because you can feel their love for their daughter. And finally, we have Selena Leonelli. I won’t go into much detail regarding what role she has and what she means to Charlotte, but I will say that Selena is our witch. And as our villainess, we’re not supposed to like her, but Forsyth makes it difficult not to. She’s had a difficult childhood and experiences something no child should be exposed to. Her quest for vengeance is justifiable and yet, you can’t help but weep for her.
What I really liked about Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS are the emotions I felt while reading. You can feel Charlotte’s unease when she arrives at the convent because her future is uncertain. I fell in love with Margherita and her determination to never give up her real identity. I also hated myself for feeling sympathy towards Selena. I mean how can I even care about what happens to the witch in this tale? Forsyth has a talent for making us care. If there is only one complaint, I wish Forsyth had spent a little more time with Selena’s story. I felt what we were given was too little, but at the same time I realize she has to remain a mystery. Perhaps it’s fitting that we don’t know everything about her. Also, I wish Forsyth had expanded the role of the other girls Margherita encounters a little more. I won’t go into detail because it would be a spoiler. While we are given a bit of insight to their fate, I wanted to know them via their own narrative versus what we are told by Selena.
Just a quick note: If you’re the type who likes to be immersed in a story, you might find Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS to be a bit frustrating. Forsyth dedicates an equal amount of time to Charlotte, Margherita, and Selena, but right as you become comfortable with either of them, the narrative changes and we’re pulled out of the zone. Never fear, there are chapter headings that make note of the changes, but if you’re like me who sometimes disregards them at the start of a new chapter, it can be a bit confusing.
Fans of historical fiction are in for a real treat as Forsyth does a superb great job incorporating historical facts and fiction. We go from a cold convent outside Gascony, France and travel back in time to Italy. Forsyth gives us rich descriptions and you feel as if you’re a part of the story and not just a bystander. I can only imagine the type of research Forsyth must have conducted and her passion for fairy tales is clearly evident. Forsyth includes a Foreword and an Afterword (as well as an Acknowledgements page which she goes into a little more detail about her research). There’s an interesting tidbit regarding Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s Rapunzel and Giambattista Basile’s Petrosinella (which translates to Parsley). Basile’s tale was written something like 60 years before de la Force’s and there’s no evidence to suggest she knew of the tale. I always find such tidbits as fascinating and no doubt after reading Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS, you’ll look at de la Force a little differently. Perhaps there is some truth in the magical tale Forsyth tells in BITTER GREENS. Or at least I’d like to think so.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction or fairytales, I highly recommend Kate Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS. I personally am hoping her backlist becomes available in the US because I can’t wait to read more from her!
| Sep 17, 2014 |
I received an ARC of 'Bitter Greens' by Kate Forsyth from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This novel is 17th-Century historical fiction at its best. It's the adult retelling of the fairy tale, Rapunzel. Three women make up this story and one of them is Charlotte-Rosa de la Force who was the real-life author who originally told this fairy tale the way it is known today. She was 74 when she passed away in 1724.
The settings are mostly in Versailles and Venice. The talent Ms. Forsyth must have done very much research to be able to put all the details together connecting the three women in this amazing work. Many times this is a dark novel but there are lighter moments also.
I highly recommend 'Bitter Greens' since I didn't want to put it down. I plan to read more works by Ms. Forsyth.
| Aug 3, 2014 |
Please see the full review on my blog:
| May 20, 2014 |
A thoroughly enjoyable novel, twisting backwards and forwards through time and through France and Italy to tell the story behind Rapunzel, and also the ups and downs of the life of the author of as she moves from Gascony to the French court, to exile in a convent. It also refers to the horrendous treatment of Huguenots both before and after the Edict of Nantes. It is an extremely interesting read
| Jan 21, 2014 |
is "Rapunzel" as historical fiction. Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a court fixture at Versailles under Louis XIV, has been exiled to an impoverished convent as punishment for some unknown misconduct. A strong woman who has been through a lot (she lost her mother as a child for being a Huguenot, was arrested for supposedly using black magic, and forcibly divorced from her husband against both their wills, among other things), Charlotte-Rose is miserable there. However, one of the sisters takes pity on her and takes her under her wing. Charlotte-Rose has always loved a good story, and the one Sister Seraphina tells is unlike any she had ever heard.
In late 15th century Venice, the girl Maria is born to her courtesan mother. After a series of tragedies in which her mother's patron kills her father and has her mother gang raped, she finds herself alone and seeking revenge. The witch Sybilla gives her the means to do so, and Maria, now Serena, flourishes as the muse of the great painter Titian. But inside, she is still a scared little girl, lost and alone, and these fears lead her to seek eternal youth and eventually a young girl named Margherita, whose mother craved bitter herbs during her pregnancy with tragic results.
Now known as Petrosinella, Margherita lives alone in a tower on Lake Garda, longing for a world she can only dream about with only the witch La Strega's visits to look forward too. Until one day, lured by her singing, a young man asks her to let down her hair . . .
Forsyth has a done a masterful job here, intertwining the sad stories of three strong women, who find themselves trapped in situations no one should ever face, and yet despite all the tragedy of their lives, ultimately the message is one of hope. I should add that Charlotte-Rose was a real person, whose version of "Rapunzel" is the one that we all know today. The world-building here is excellent and reads true, and the female leads are compelling. Over all, an extremely powerful book, with the intertwining stories supporting and strengthening one another instead of competing and splitting the narrative. I can't understand why it hasn't been published in the States yet. Highly, highly recommended.
| Sep 13, 2013 |
Review originally published on my blog: AWordsWorth.blogspot.com
Book provided by publisher for review.
Bitter Greens is an intricate retelling of Rapunzel's story, weaving it into a historical context that makes the familiar tradition live and breathe in unexpected ways. This is a fairytale for adults and historical fiction lovers.
Charlotte-Rose has been exiled from the court of the Sun King, sentenced to finish out her days in a nunnery after losing the favor of Louis XIV. Fighting violently against her new life, Charlotte-Rose finds she can no longer ignore her memories or run from her past. Her story is one of heartache and lost love, missed opportunities and the fickle gaiety of court. It's lush and extravagant, yet also threadbare and built upon a fragile base of shifting allegiances. At the nunnery, Charlotte-Rose meets a nun - Sœur Seraphina - who extends a hand of mercy and friendship, and offers a welcome distraction from her troubles. The story Sœur Seraphina tells is a strangely fascinating one to Charlotte-Rose, about a beautiful young Venetian girl, Margherita, stolen from her parents by a strega - a witch - and locked away in a convent. When the strega comes back for Margherita (whom she calls Petrisonella), she whisks her away to a remote tower, sewing a strange, abnormally long collection of hair into Margherita's own bronze locks. And so begins the Rapunzel story.
Forsyth does a masterful job of weaving Margherita's story into that of Charlotte-Rose, even working in a piece that addresses the history of the strega - Selena - who has a fascinating story of her own. Rich in historical detail and intricately-fleshed out characters, Bitter Greens gives new insight into several different historical periods, and is a testament to the power of Love. It's a beautiful retelling of a classic fairytale, with raw, rough emotions and just enough "harsh reality" to make the story strong, believable. The connections between the three, stunningly different women -- it's masterfully written. Worth the wait.
| Jun 24, 2013 |
Last month I went to hear Kate Forsyth speak as part of her national tour for the Get Reading! Programme. At the time, I hadn’t read very much by her, but I was a fan of her blog (she writes about all sorts of interesting things, go check it out at
). I’m really glad that I did listen to her speak about the writing process, her research and how she became a writer, in addition to meeting her and getting my copy of The Wild Girl signed. Not only was Kate informative, she is a very engaging speaker and I am full of admiration towards her. I particularly enjoyed listening to how she does her research, and I can tell you that the extensive time and effort she spends on it comes through in Bitter Greens. Kate has the ability to make dry ol’ history come to life and absolutely sparkle!
Readers of my blog and reviews would know that I’m not really a fan of science fiction and fantasy – my brain prefers cold hard facts or at least something to be plausible (which could be why I’m also a fan of Mythbusters). Bitter Greens involves witchcraft, spells and (almost) immortal life – but I loved it! Kate has the ability to make the fantastical seem completely at ease with reality. If you think you know the fairy tale Rapunzel from your youth, think again. This story is so much richer, more involved and interesting than a girl with a long plait.
Bitter Greens opens with Charlotte-Rose de la Force (a fantastic name for a heroine- but what’s better is that she is a real person too) being sent against her will to a convent after offending the King of France, Louis XIV. Charlotte is not happy to be deprived of life at court and her husband, Charles. She rails against the ways of the nuns until one morning, Soeur Seraphina begins to tell her a story of a witch and a little girl.
Margherita is the girl locked in the tower. Previously happy with her parents, she is taken from them after Selena the witch extracts her payment for a handful of bitter greens. Renamed by Selena, she lives a life alone, except when Selena comes to take her blood as a youth elixir. Will her prince ever come?
We also find how Selena came to be the feared witch and courtesan La Strega Bella, famous throughout Venice for her beauty and witchcraft. A destitute youth means that Selena is determined never to be poor again, nor suffer the way her mother did.
Each character’s history and place in time is meticulously researched. Initially, I felt a bit lost with Charlotte’s story as I don’t know my French history very well, but I was soon comfortable with Kate’s glorious descriptions of the dresses, food and nuances of the royal court. I did feel sorry for Selena at times (even though I admired Margherita’s courage and ability to withstand imprisonment) and Kate makes a good case to show how Selena got to be where she ended up. The emotions run high at times between passionate love affairs (Charlotte does quite well for someone who claims not to be a beauty) and some incredibly cruel moments, such as the death of Selena’s mother. Kate has an incredible use of language that sets the scene, tone and characters clearly in my head. The story is fast paced and never boring.
One thing I remember Kate saying in her author talk was that she always promises a happy ending. I believe you will be delighted in how the story wraps up and eager to read more by Kate Forsyth.
| Apr 28, 2013 |
I feel kind of terrible writing this review because this book is awesome ... and not available in the U.S. (It is available in the UK.) As usual, with a book I love this much, I'm having a hard time writing a coherent review. I really ought to just do a video review so I can wave my hands and make excited noises -- that'd probably convey more.
I'm a sucker for a fairy tale retold, especially when they're placed in a historical era, marrying 'real' with 'fantasy'. In this case, the fairy tale is Rapunzel, and the historical eras are 17th century France and 16th century Venice. Told in a story-within-a-story style, Forsyth manages to write a wonderfully solid historical novel with all the details I like -- customs, costumes, and characters -- as well as a fairy tale fantasy that resonates and delights. Shifting between three perspectives, this brick of a novel (about 500 pages) had me hanging on every word, literally, and I was lugging this thing with me everywhere and reading it with every free second.
Opening in late 17th century France, the novel focuses first on Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a witty noblewoman banished to a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV. There, the woman once bedecked in jewels and luxurious fabrics finds herself stripped of her belongings (including her writing implements), head shorn, condemned to lowly tasks. When a nun takes Charlotte-Rose under her wing, she enchants the Frenchwoman with a tale from her own life, and the story shifts to Renaissance Venice. One of Titian's muses, Selena Leonelli, has taken to witchcraft to preserve her youth, and when a neighbor steals greens from her yard, the witch takes their Margherita for use in her own dark magic.
De La Force is the real life author of a Rapunzel variation, and Forsyth's novel guesses at how this Frenchwoman might have heard of the Venetian original. Using the Venetian motifs in her own version, Forsyth mixes magic and history, and comes up with a delicious and heartbreaking treat.
Forsyth's writing is evocative and pretty without feeling heavy or ornate; she conveys a sense of time and place without the dreaded infodump. What I appreciated, She also doesn't mince words about the way women were treated in these eras -- she creates strong heroines who are quite real but don't reek of anachronism.
Like others on this tour, I'm totally unwilling to part with my copy of this book. I had hoped to offer a giveaway but Book Depository doesn't have this one available yet. Keep your eye out -- if you like fairy tales, French history, and escapist historical fiction, you'll want this novel.
| Mar 20, 2013 |
Fairytale, historical fiction, great read
| Nov 7, 2012 |
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is essentially the story of Rapunzel, a children's story we all think we know pretty well. However in the hands of Australian author Kate Forsyth - who is currently undertaking a Doctorate in fairytale retellings - the story is told anew and adult readers are in for an absolute treat!
Early on, we meet Margherita, a young girl living with her parents on their modest income until she is cruelly snatched away by a witch for payment on a promise made by her father a long time ago.
Charlotte-Rose de la Force is living at court in Versailles, France until she falls out of favour with the Sun King Louis XIV and is sent to a nunnery. Always writing stories, Charlotte-Rose is keen to listen to an old tale from one of the nuns about a young girl sold for a handful of bitter greens.
La Strega Bella is the witch who locked Rapunzel in the tower and we are given a first person peek at what drove her to those extremes. The reader is taken back to her time as a young girl to find out what drove her towards the dangerous world of dark magic.
Three lives, three women all interconnected with elements of historical fiction combined with fairytale and magic make for an enchanting and compelling read and I was glued from the first few pages. Even the cover is enticing, and I knew by page 50 that Bitter Greens was going to be a 5 star read for me and I relished every page.
The novel is on the darker side of fairytale, so don't be expecting shades of Disney or be surprised when the plague comes knocking. Oh, and saucy too! The final third of the novel is quite tantalising - let me tell you - so be prepared ;-)
Finally, I recommend Bitter Greens to readers who enjoy historical fiction, fairytales and those who enjoy stories with passion, love, hardship, revenge and redemption.
| Sep 19, 2012 |
Fairytale retellings are many things. Enchanting, heart-warming, romantic. But they are very rarely surprising. After all, any passing six-year-old could give you a pretty accurate account of what happens to Rapunzel. (In case your memory needs jogging it begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “Happily ever after”.)
But when it comes to fairytale retellings it’s not so much about what happens in the story, it’s how the story is told. And in the case of Bitter Greens, it is even more than that.
This isn’t just a simple retelling. This is the story behind the story of Rapunzel, as well as the story within the story of Rapunzel. On the one hand, it is a richly imagined reworking of a familiar fairytale. On the other, it is a meticulously researched biography disguised as historical fiction. It’s a story spanning two centuries and weaving together the lives of three women.
It begins in 17th century France with Mademoiselle Charlotte-Rose de la Force, an aristocrat at the court of Louis XIV, reluctantly bidding farewell to Versailles. Her scandalous behaviour has landed her in trouble with the king, and Charlotte-Rose is banished to a convent. Life there is intolerable until she is befriended by a kindly old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl called Margherita.
A hundred years earlier, Margherita’s father steals a handful of bitter greens - parsley, wintercress and rapunzel - from the walled garden of the sorceress, La Strega. The witch catches him and they have to agree to give up their daughter when she turns seven to save him from having both hands cut off.
La Strega imprisons the young Margherita in an isolated tower, and weaves the hair of previous captives into a braid. Once a month, La Strega visits the tower to drink the maiden’s blood – the secret of her long life and beauty. Margherita must lower her braid to bring the witch up to the tower – but eventually someone else discovers the tower and the ladder of hair.
The third storyline follows the life of Selena Leonelli. Selena’s story takes place in the sumptuous and seductive world of Renaissance Venice. Selena is a renowned beauty, muse to the famous artist Tiziano. Less well known is the fact that she is a sorceress – in fact, La Strega. Though she is the villain of the tale, she is not your typical “wicked witch” and is actually a surprisingly complicated and sympathetic character.
The stories of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena are skillfully woven together to create a captivating blend of history and fantasy. And there’s a really surprising twist in the end that I simply didn’t see coming.
Here we have all the elements of the familiar fairytale but told in a very compelling and realistic way. Like in all fairytales, there is magic involved. But it is an artful and believable brand of magic, so subtle as to almost escape notice. And naturally there is also a swoon-worthy romance, the kind of fairytale romance that must overcome countless obstacles before you get to the “happily ever after”.
There actually was a gentlewoman at the Sun King’s court by the name of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who was banished to a convent. While there, she wrote a collection of fairytales, which included a story called Persinette (Parsley) about a girl held captive in a tower. Hers was not the first version of the story, which has been told as far back, apparently, as 10th-century Persia.
And for those of you who think they don’t have time for fairytales? Yes, Rapunzel is an old story – and you have almost certainly heard it before. Trust me, though, you’ve never heard it told quite like this.
| Jun 9, 2012 |
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