You want to talk about a lofty book? This is it. Easily.
Bitter Greens - Kate Forsyth
The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
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.
Yes, it's a re-telling of Rapunzel. Yes, it's really long and it's really hard to get through. Yes, it is absolutely worth it. I will say that because I confess to getting bored with this at several points and wanting to actually give it up. I did not, because I'm kind of a fan of classic stories being re-told and I figured I had already gotten this far, I'm this much invested, I'll keep plugging along. And I'm really glad because though for a good chunk of the book I had no idea how Kate was going to tie three stories (all different time periods, no less) together and make it seem logical to the story of Rapunzel. Somehow, she did it. Do I think chunks could be removed? Yes. Very much so. It's just so boring in parts that I fear a lot of less dedicated readers would give up, especially those who aren't avid readers as it is.
But we have the store of three women: Margherita, the young girl stolen from her family because her father stole bitter greens from Selena Leonellia (La Strega), we have Charlotte-Rose, who is sent away from Louis XIV court because she basically sleeps around a little too much, and then the story of La Strega. The story is actually Charlotte-Rose learning of the actual story of Margherita, and then she compares it to her current situation, which is living in a home for nuns and it's treated like a prison, essentially. And we have La Strega, who is kind of like Charlotte-Rose herself because La Strega was basically forced into her situation and does whatever she can to fight the awful things that have happened to her in her life. I didn't care so much about her story, and I was highly interested in Margherita, but Charlotte-Rose was maybe my least favorite character.
What is highly interesting is that after I finished it, I see how each woman is like Rapunzel. All were taken, all were essentially in a tower, all had injustices done to them, yet all of them remain hopeful. In very different ways. The story itself is extremely complex and I can only imagine the time it would take to not only research French history to get the characters and original story correct, but then to weave in fictional characters so it all feels real- that had to be a mass under taking.
In the end, I actually loved it. It was so hard to read and get through, I wanted to give up but I am so glad that I didn't. I would have missed a really great ending that ties it all together kind of perfectly.