By Kate Forsyth
Publication date: First published in 2012
Publisher: Vintage Books (Random House)
Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling tale of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love. (Vintage Books)
Kate Forsyth has the best author signature I’ve come across. That’s probably because she’s had a lot of practise, as the author of more than 20 books for children and adults, and a five-time Aurealis award winner.
To put it simply, Bitter Greens weaves the traditional Rapunzel tale together with a fictionalised account of the life of the 17th Century French woman who first wrote the story, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. But the combined story is anything but simple.
Charlotte-Rose’s story is a wonderful tale of life in the court of Louis IV, packed with insight into a fascinating and terrible time in French history. Politics, religious persecution and the whims of the Sun King are the backdrop to the compelling story of one woman’s survival.
Kate Forsyth’s Rapunzel retelling I found even more masterful, with a setting in 16th Century Italy where endemic violence against women becomes a driving force in a story of women’s resilience.
‘Bitter Greens’ won the 2015 American Libraries Association prize for Historical Fiction and has been reprinted multiple times. I found it a gorgeous, luscious, and nourishing read, full of wisdom and wit. Nothing in Bitter Greens is understated. Story is big, costumes are big, passions run high and black magic permeates, but there’s a simplicity and directness in the storytelling that means this never feels melodramatic.
A lot happens in the story and it was at times a little difficult to keep track of the characters but this can be the case in any big and complex novel. The rewards for that little extra effort are great: Kate Forsyth has created resonances, harmony and tension between the different timelines and characters that will stay with me for a long time.