My review of Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

An utterly captivating reinvention of the Rapunzel fairytale weaved together with the scandalous life of one of the tale’s first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

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. 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…

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, sixty-four years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the blood of young red-haired girls.

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, winter cress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little red-haired girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and dreaming of being rescued…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love. 
Title: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Publisher: Allison & Busby UK
Publication date: February 2013
Hardcover: 491 pages
 Rapunzel by Frank Cadogan Cowper, R.A. (1877-1958)

Rapunzel sings from the Tower '.... 

in the fire Of sunset, 

I behold a face, 

Which sometime, if God give me grace, 

May kiss me in this very place'

(Rapunzel - William Morris) 

 portrait of Charlotte-Rose de la Force (supposedly her)

Bitter Greens is filled with tales of love, passion, sex, life and death, during the tempestuous times of sixteenth century Italy and seventeenth century France. Although, theses fairy tales are fictitious as far as we know, the storytellers seem to have been real people. It seems, Charlotte-Rose de la Force was indeed a real woman whose story in itself makes for a suspenseful romance filled with violence and revenge. Imprison me in a tower and see how I rebel…I know, I’ll write it all down and use the written word to avenge their blackened souls!

As the case with the character of Selena, I can only guess that she was based upon the woman who turned out to be Tiziano’s real life wife and lover. Her stories of meeting and working with Tiziano are filled with desire and forbidden passion evoking such tenderness and trust between them, I found myself really engaging in their stories.  I have travelled extensively throughout Italy and even took two classes while I was there, so reading about Tiziano’s so-called life and love brought back wonderful memories of walking through incense filled churches gazing upon his gorgeous paintings for the first time! The character of Margherita is really found in most of these tales within Bitter Greens more so than the others. I enjoyed reading the tales but couldn’t really connect with her for some reason as much as Charlotte and Selena.  She also was locked away in a tower where a Italian witch called, ‘La Strega’ would come to her telling tales. Now if you’re attempting to make the stories more realistic and you are talking about sixteenth century Italy where the belief in the ‘La Strega’ was very real, then her presence is necessary. However, being Italian myself, I do get a bit sensitive to how they are depicted. Culturally, La Strega’s were not witches or old hags, they were peasants and families of travelling gypsies selling wares trying to survive so their families could eat. If you think of the Irish Tinkers than you’ve got the idea!

Some wonderful surprises found within Bitter Greens was the mention of how Charlotte-Rose and Marguerite de Valois both lived at Chateau de Cazeneuve at one time in their lives. Marguerite de Valois life is discussed because Charlotte is enraptured by her life and sees parallels between the two. I particularly enjoyed this chapter very much having read Alexander Dumas’ novel, ‘La Reine Margot’ and of course the film of the same name which has become one of my all time favorites. Come on who doesn’t want the gorgeous Vincent Perez as a lover?

Henry Navarre and Margaret Valois                                                                                                 Vincent Perez (La Mole) and Isabelle Adjani as Margot


 movie still of Henry Navarre and Margot Valois from La Reine Margot

Lastly, as Bitter Greens progresses and alternates between two centuries in Italy and France, you will meet another incredibly fascinating man by the name, ‘Moliere.’  His death and a bit of his life is described in one of the later chapters and I haven’t thought about his plays in several years. I used to read Tartuffe all the time twenty years ago or probably in my late teens when my mother took me to a surprise matinee of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu and Anne Brochet. I was sixteen and can still remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in a wooden upper balcony watching my very first foreign film and thinking I was so very grown up! The sumptuous soundtrack by Rappeneau washed over my entire body. I couldn’t believe how beautiful this music was until I saw the most beautiful man. I gasped out loud making my mom turn to me and smile while I looked at Vincent Perez as Christian de neuvillette. I leaned over to her and whispered, ’Who is that man?’ She replied, ‘We’ll see during the credits at the end.’  Oh, where was I? Sorry, went off on a tangent didn’t I…Oh yes, the connection between Moliere and Cyrano de Bergerac?  Well, he is mentioned throughout the film and in the play by Edmund Rostand.  I may go have to watch Cyrano again and of course Queen Margot…
 I still have this movie poster...

Vincent Perez as Christian de neuvillette in Cyrano de Bergerac

As with The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, I was again transported back in time to meet these incredible historical figures to see what possibly might have inspired them to write down these tales and stories. I am so glad we have fairy tales like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc., to read about whether it be a means of escapism from our technologically filled world of wanting all things now or whether we are reading to quench our thirst for knowledge and beauty. Please, consider Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and enjoy the story.

The U.S. publication of Bitter Greens comes out on September 23, 2014 and will be available via Amazon and all sellers. Here is the gorgeous cover
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250047536
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250047533


Pamela Britley said…
This sounds so good and most interesting. On my TBR list for sure!