September 24, 2014

Let Down Your Hair

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Release Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 496 pages
Source & Format: ARC from Publisher at BEA
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Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

Thoughts on Bitter Greens
Prior to BEA, I looked up books that were going to be available there so I would have some idea of whether or not I really wanted to read it. I didn't want to just grab whatever was there, and I hoped that doing a little research beforehand meant that I'd be more likely to come home with books I was actually excited to read. The minute I saw that Bitter Greens was going to be there, I was thrilled! Originally published in Australia, I've had my eye on this book for quite a while.

Bitter Greens opens with French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force being banished from the court of Versailles after a series of scandalous love affairs and controversial stories. She's sent to a convent and forced to give up her life of luxury. While there, an older nun takes her under her wing and tells her the story of a young girl, Margherita, whose father agrees to give her to a powerful and dangerous woman named Selena (the witch) in exchange for some bitter greens that will save his wife's life. Locked away in a tower, Margherita spends every day hoping that someone will find her... and one day, a young man does.

In case you can't tell by that summary, Bitter Greens is a Rapunzel retelling. But the most exciting part? Charlotte-Rose de la Force is the real woman who wrote the story of Rapunzel as we now know it. That's right - this is inspired by real historical events! I love stories about real people, so I knew that I had to get my hands on this book when I realized that it wasn't just a simple retelling of a familiar fairy tale. In 1698, de la Force wrote Persinette - which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as Rapunzel.

In Bitter Greens, Forysth weaves together the stories of the three main women: Charlotte-Rose, Selena and Margherita. Although it's fictional, Forsyth did her research and brings these two time periods to life. The book opens with Charlotte-Rose's story, and it takes a little bit of time before you get into the portion that focuses on Margherita. While I loved Margherita's portions the most, I was fascinated by Charlotte-Rose's life. Some of the most outrageous stories from her life are the things that really happened!

I really don't want to speak to what happens in the book because I think it's a book that you just have to experience for yourself. I did feel that some of the characters in the Rapunzel story were a little less fleshed-out than the "real" people in the story. In fact, I wanted a less of Charlotte-Rose and more of the fairy tale portions of the story. Forsyth's version of events was fascinating, and she introduced new explanations for certain parts that added a nice dimension to the Rapunzel story. That's what made me want more of the fairy tale!

There were times when the fairy tale felt like it was telling rather than showing, but I think that's partly due to the way the story is being "told" by the older nun in the convent. The story also shifts between a lot of different time periods, so you have to really pay attention to when each chapter is set. It's a slow and steady book, but the pacing never bothered me. Once I started to connect to the characters, I was happy to sit and read for hours!

While the language of the book is beautiful, the tone and content is much darker. Rapunzel isn't exactly light or happy material, and Forsyth definitely explores those heavier themes. There is a lot of sexual violence in the story - it affected all three of the main characters and became a pretty dominant presence in the book. It's the one thing that I struggled with while reading, and I ended up skimming a few things.

I read Bitter Greens so quickly, lost myself in Forsyth's writing and admired the way she has crafted this book... and yet, I don't think I would ever re-read it. Forsyth has intricately crafted three separate stories and managed to bring them together into a moving and memorable book. I think fans of fairy tale retellings, in particular, will be delighted with Bitter Greens. I debated rating it a bit higher - it's an imaginative, atmospheric novel that was clearly well-researched - but I just couldn't get past a few issues with some of the dominant themes. However, overall, I really did love most of this book!

So Quotable
"Words. I had always loved them. I collected them, like I had collected pretty stones as a child. I liked to roll words over my tongue like a lump of molten honeycomb, savouring the sweetness, the crackle, the crunch. Cerulean, azure, blue. Shadowy, sombre, secret. Voluptuous, sensuous, amorous, Kiss, hiss, abyss."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

3 comments:

  1. I am working on some research on folk and fairy tales for my Master's degree... I think I'll have to check this out for my work! It sounds awesome.

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  2. I literally cannot wait to read this book. Like you, I've been waiting for its US release ever since I learned about it being published in Australia and the UK.
    I do consider myself to be a fan of fairy tale retellings, so I have high hopes for this one. I like the idea that it is based on historical facts and that there are three storylines present - it will be so interesting to see how the threads interact with one another!
    Even though this sounds as though it wasn't the perfect book for you, I'm glad that you were able to enjoy it quite a bit!

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  3. I'm so very excited to read Bitter Greens! (Thanks for sending me your ARC!) I'm a really big fan of fairytale retellings, so I try to read as much of them as I can. That being said, it's a major bonus that this is also historical fiction! I had no idea about that when I first heard of it, but now that I've read your review, I'm really excited. Can't wait to see what I think of this retelling!

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