October 30, 2017

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Source: Vine

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.

I wasn't quite sure what I was getting with Bitter Greens other than it was a take on Rapunzel. The book first begins with the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a French noblewoman who wrote the version of Rapunzel that we know today. As Forsyth tells it, Charlotte-Rose was a witty, intelligent and strong-willed woman who got punished by the King for being too forward and too outspoken. Her punishment: to be banished into a nunnery. The theme of Forsyth's depiction of Charlotte-Rose's rise and fall into disfavor is that she was a woman far ahead of her time. Women at the time were subject to the whims of men and had very little power of their own.

Forsyth intertwines this theme with the Rapunzel fairy tale, which Charlotte-Rose encounters for the first time in the convent, as told to her by a nun she befriends. At this point, Bitter Greens incorporates the tale of Margherita, an Italian Rapunzel, and then later on, the tale of La Strega, the witch who imprisons her in the tower. Surprisingly, La Strega's tale is the one I found most intriguing.

Charlotte-Rose's banishment into the convent has certain parallels to Margherita's imprisonment in the tower and what it takes to free one's self either physically or figuratively from the real or metaphorical chains.

Bitter Greens is historical fiction along the lines of Philippa Gregory novels, with a touch of fantasy/magic.

I was not as taken with the book as I had hoped to be. There is a jumping the shark turn of events which I found forced and unbelievable and also seemed to indicate that being imprisoned in a tower is good for women – it purges them of evil/wrongdoing.    


  1. I was planning on reading this until I read the last paragraph of your review!

    1. And I don’t blame you one bit. I did want to like this book more.