Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

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Book review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

It has taken me way too long to write this review, considering the fact I started reading this book in May and have prompted another friend to read it since (spoiler: we both bloody loved it). I don't remember ever buying Bitter Greens but I know it was there on my Kindle app when I needed it the most (craving more retellings after finishing The Lunar Chronicles).

Bitter Greens (2013, Allison & Busby) is a fairy tale retelling by Kate Forsyth, focusing and building upon the story of Rapunzel. And, never fear, we're in good retelling territory here. There's enough original, witty, and clever content here to shake a stick at. There's also witches.

The story is told from three different perspectives over time. The first is Charlotte-Rose, a novelist (in reality the first person to ever write down the story that is what we know today as Rapunzel) who is banned from Versailles by Louis XIV and sent to a convent. There she meets a Sister who tells the story of Margherita, a young girl hidden in a tower by a witch after her father steals bitter greens from her garden. It's Margherita's tale that forms the second narrative and the main retelling of the Rapunzel story in this book. The final entwined narrative is that of Selena Leonelli, a red-headed courtesan and artist's muse living in Venice. We follow as readers these three women through the tragedies of their lives and witness in the end how they are all braided together, happily or not.

Bitter Greens is an incredibly slow-paced book, but to me that was part of its beauty. The entire journey is sleepy and dream-like (often nightmare-like), taking place in Venice, Paris, Versailles. Forsyth presents you with all of the information you need to know about these cities and their cultures, painting them in your mind like a true artist. After the first chapter I didn't even care that this was a fairy tale retelling; I just wanted to know what was going to happen next. Why was Charlotte-Rose being sent to a convent? What did she do? Was she fairly treated? Does she deserve this? I was completely engrossed in her world.

To anyone wanting to read Bitter Greens, I must warn you that this is not a book for children or young teenagers. Scattered throughout are dozens of sex scenes (historical fiction seems to be unable to function without them these days), but also scenes of sexual violence, rape, and drug abuse. This is most certainly a fairy tale for adults. If you're easily affected by this sort of content, I don't think this book is for you. I did find myself flinching at times, but I imagine the things depicted are very, very real for many women now, and in the past.

This was a five-star read for me, and one that is going to stay with me for a long time. It cleverly weaves realistic historical narratives with fairy tale and witchcraft (witch stories are the best stories), with an added dollop of amazing characterisation and beautiful language.

M x

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