I'm a big fan of the "true story" versions of fairy tales. Well, OK, I'm really just a big fan of Ever After, but details, schmetails. My point is when I found out this was a story about the origins of Rapunzel, I knew I wanted to give it a try. It surpassed my expectations and I fell in love with the story and the characters. In Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth has created a wonderful, beautifully tangled* narrative of three remarkable women..
It begins with the story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, who has been banished from the court of King Louis XIV and sent to a convent as punishment for her scandalous affairs and writings. Flashing back and forth between the convent and Charlotte-Rose's many (mis)adventures, Forsyth creates a vivid and realistic picture of an absolutely fascinating woman. Her extensive research and dedication to not just the historical period but Charlotte-Rose herself is clearly evident. I have to admit it's the first time I've ever heard of Charlotte-Rose, but now I've had a taste I want to know so much more. I mean, not only did she write one of the earliest versions of Rapunzel, she did wicked cool things like dress in a bear suit to rescue her imprisoned lover. Yep. I have a bit of a girl crush on her.
Speaking of girl crushes, I also fell a bit in love with Margherita, the Rapunzel figure of the piece, whose story is woven naturally into my mate C-R's narrative. She's definitely not the weeping, hopeless damsel-in-distress type. I admired her fighting spirit and resourcefulness. I also appreciated the fact that her parents were more likable (and definitely more fleshed out) than they are in other versions of the story, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the prince. He was pretty swoon-worthy to start with, but the way he kept blaming Margherita for her imprisonment made me want to chuck him out the window. I thought she could have done better than him, locked in a tower and all. Of course, he is only the second person she's seen in years and the first to treat her even halfway decent, so I can't blame the poor girl for falling for his douchebaggery.
Which brings me to the third layer of narrative within Bitter Greens; the Witch's. We first see her as a beautiful yet terrifying woman who kidnaps Margherita and bathes in her blood (it's icky as hell, but not the worst thing she does, believe it or not). In time her own story starts to unfold, revealing her history and giving the reader, if not sympathy, then at least some empathy for her. While I enjoyed this part of the story, I would have liked to have seen it further developed. I was never really convinced of exactly why, even with her horrific past, Selena Leonelli was so obsessed with eternal youth and beauty. I also would have liked a bit more time spent on the other "Rapunzels" - I found this aspect fascinating. In fact, I really enjoyed Forsyth's unique explanations for the origins of the myth.
With so much going on, Bitter Greens could have easily become stuck in its own spider-web, but Forsyth balances the intertwining plots wonderfully. She builds each section up to a point where you just want MOAR, then switches gears and gets you all caught up in another character's head. It's a delicate line to walk and she gets it mostly right. Still, I was a little disappointed with the ending - after the slow burn of the bulk of the book, I felt it was too rushed and some things seemed forced. But that didn't materially lessen the loveliness of the book as a whole.
Published: March 2012, Random House Australia
Get It: Booktopia
Bitter Greens helped me pass the time on a long train ride (isn't the cover purdy?).
Forsyth has some great Bitter Greens tidbits on her blog as well some lovely Bitter Greens boards on Pinterest.
*See what I did there?