Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
First published April 2012 by Random House Australia
Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV, has always been a great teller of tales. Selena Leonelli, once the exquisite muse of the great Venetian artist Titian, is terrified of time. Margherita, trapped in a doorless tower and burdened by tangles of her red-gold hair, must find a way to escape. Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together in a compelling tale of desire, obsession and the redemptive power of love.
It is difficult to describe or categorise this book. I guess it is essentially historical fiction, with a bit of fantasy and fairy tale thrown in for good measure. I wouldn’t expect this to be my thing at all, but I was lured in by the intriguing cover, and was also intrigued by the idea of a reworking of the tale of Rapunzel…
There are three separate strands to this story – the main one being the first person narrative of Charlotte-Rose de la Force. We meet her in 1697 as she is being sent to a nunnery – in stark contrast to her fun and frivolous existence in the courts of the king. Gradually we find out more about her story, and we jump back in time a little in order to do so.
We then jump back 100 years to the story of a young girl who is captured and locked in a tower by a woman who weaves her hair into an incredibly long braid, and drinks her blood. It is the story of Rapunzel – but with any fairy tale gloss truly removed! It’s dark and creepy – but to give us a bit of perspective, the third tale in the book is that of the woman who has captured the young girl.
The way the three stories are weaved together works really well – and in actual fact Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real person, who wrote the story of Rapunzel which was later adapted by the Grimm brothers into the fairy tale we are more familiar with today. I felt that the research and detail in the book was really impressive, and I liked the debauchery and insight into the lives of the king and his various mistresses and acquaintances. A lot of the story is dark but it feels real and I found myself compelled to read on, and I enjoyed all three of the tales that were woven together in the book. I really enjoyed the fact that Charlotte-Rose was based on a real character – it gave the book a sense of realism despite the fantasy elements.
If I had to find fault with the novel, I guess it did feel perhaps a touch too long. I also got a bit bored of all the bodice-busting sex scenes – not for prudish reasons but simply as they got a bit tedious! But overall I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this book, and I will definitely be reading The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth soon.