November 25th, 2014

new romantic.

Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens
by Kate Forsyth

The story of Rapunzel is reinvented in Bitter Greens, 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.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Bitter Greens, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: The Small Hand and Dolly: Two Novels by Susan Hill
2012: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
2011: Another little break for school…
2010: Happy Thanksgiving!
2009: Going on hiatus…
2008: Macbeth: The Graphic Novel by Classical Comics