Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Title: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: Vintage April 2012

Synopsis: Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from court 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 … After Margherita’s father steals a handful of greens – parsley, wintercress and rapunzel – from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, they give up their daughter to save him from having both hands cut off.  Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one 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.Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does … Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.

Status: Read on April 11, 2012 – I own a copy  {Courtesy Random House Australia)

My Thoughts:

In Bitter Greens, Forsyth weaves together the narratives of Rapunzel, the author of the fairy tale, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force and the courtesan sorceress, ‘La Strega Bella’, Selena Leonelli, against the intriguing backdrop of seventeenth century Europe, from the court of Versailles presided over by the Sun King, Louis XIV to a cloistered stone convent. Bitter Greens is a mesmerising tale blending history, fantasy and adventure in a remarkable story.

Charlotte-Rose de Camont de la Force, Forsyth reveals in the Afterword, was the author of ‘Persinette’ a fairy tale written while she was in exile at a French convent. ‘Persinette’, meaning Little Parsley, is the basis for the tale we know as Rapunzel. Bitter Greens opens as Charlotte-Rose is settling into the Abbey, miserable and lamenting her banishment from the Royal Court. There is little of anything in the austere convent, little food, little warmth and little kindness. Only Soeur (Sister) Seraphina reaches out to Charlotte-Rose and begins to tell her a story of a little girl named Margherita, affectionately called Persinette by her parents.
As the story of Bitter Greens unfolds, perspective switches between that of Charlotte-Rose who recalls the circumstances that have led her to the Abbey, and the tale of Margherita, (as told by Sister Seraphina) taken from her parents and imprisioned in a tower. Forsyth then introduces Selena Leonelli, who shares her own tale of a life as the cherished and beautiful daughter of a courtesan, whose brutal downfall and death leads Selena to swear vengeance. Apprenticed to a witch, Wise Sibillia, Selena learns the dark magic of lust, desire and revenge and becomes known as La Strega Bella – The Beautiful Witch. These complex women are extraordinary characters, both a product of, and ahead of, their times. Their stories are fascinating and though there are many differences between them, there are also similarities, not the least being the way in which as women, Charlotte-Rose, Selena and Margherita are at the mercy of society.
Bitter Greens is a dark story, shying away from the Disney versions of fairy tales and princesses. In this Rapunzel tale, Margherita is ripped screaming from her parents arms and is kept company in the tower by the skeletons of the girls who came before her. Even though you are familiar with the tale the grim circumstance and differences to the sanitised tale maintain suspense. It is however, also a story of redemption and love as promised.
With authentic and compelling detail Forsyth explores the excesses of Versailles, often a scene of debauchery and treachery. Charlotte-Rose, as a cousin to the King, is admitted to the court at sixteen but her bright mind and rebellious spirit is as often derided as it is feted. The elaborate hierarchy and capricious politics often determined by King Louis’ current fancy are interesting. The elegant costumes of the Court hide ignorance and indifferent brutality. Of the streets, Forsyth writes of casual violence, poverty, religious purges and the scourge that is the plague. While I can’t attest to the historical accuracy of the author’s imaginings the Bitter Greens is rich with vibrant landscape and scenes.

The author’s first adult tale after a successful publishing career in young adult fantasy, Bitter Greens is a stunning novel. I was spell bound from beginning to end by the lush prose, magnificent characters and intriguing story. I will be recommending Bitter Greens to everyone.

Available To Purchase

@ Random House I @Boomerang Books I @Booktopia

@Amazon (Kindle)

About the Author

Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing. Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, A Mother’s Offering to her Children. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, a rambunctious Rhodesian Ridgeback, a bad-tempered black cat, and many thousands of books.

28 thoughts on “Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

  1. I have an interview with her that should be hitting the airwaves very soon ( just awaiting production team). Lovely lady to talk to. Thanks for the review. I concur, it was a great book.


  2. Love this review and it sounds like a fun escape between the pages. Also love the Rapunzel connection-with four granddaughters I have a lot of Rapunzel related material around my home!


  3. Thanks for your heads-up on this novel, Shelleyrae. I’ve wanted to read this ever since seeing your review – and the many others linked to the AWW challenge. I finally got my copy from the library (it has been in high demand).

    A wonderful story with lots of charm and emotion – not so very different in tone and style from Kate’s Fantasy novels, but with a great take on the art of storytelling, too.


I want to know what you think! Your comments are appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s