Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th century / 16th century / France / Italy / Royal Court / Convent / Fairy Tale / Venice / Witchcraft)
Publisher/Publication Date: Allison & Busby (2/25/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Did I finish?: Yes, yes I did.
One-sentence summary: Renaissance Venice and 17th century France are connected by three women and one magical fairy tale.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- simple but striking.
I'm reminded of...: Emma Donoghue, Edith Pattou
First line: I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
Did... I love reading about what inspired this novel? YES. Forsyth shares a lovely piece about how the myth and one of this book's heroines, Charlotte Rose de la Force, came to be.
Did... I enjoy the author's list of favorite academic studies of fairy tales?: YES. Her whole blog is a treat -- she's recently interviewed a slew of authors, some familiar, some new, and my TBR has grown as a result!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy -- if you can find it!
Why did I get this book?: Fairy tales retold -- who can say 'no'?!
Review: I feel kind of terrible writing this review because this book is awesome ... and not available in the U.S. (It is available in the UK.) As usual, with a book I love this much, I'm having a hard time writing a coherent review. I really ought to just do a video review so I can wave my hands and make excited noises -- that'd probably convey more.
I'm a sucker for a fairy tale retold, especially when they're placed in a historical era, marrying 'real' with 'fantasy'. In this case, the fairy tale is Rapunzel, and the historical eras are 17th century France and 16th century Venice. Told in a story-within-a-story style, Forsyth manages to write a wonderfully solid historical novel with all the details I like -- customs, costumes, and characters -- as well as a fairy tale fantasy that resonates and delights. Shifting between three perspectives, this brick of a novel (about 500 pages) had me hanging on every word, literally, and I was lugging this thing with me everywhere and reading it with every free second.
Opening in late 17th century France, the novel focuses first on Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a witty noblewoman banished to a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV. There, the woman once bedecked in jewels and luxurious fabrics finds herself stripped of her belongings (including her writing implements), head shorn, condemned to lowly tasks. When a nun takes Charlotte-Rose under her wing, she enchants the Frenchwoman with a tale from her own life, and the story shifts to Renaissance Venice. One of Titian's muses, Selena Leonelli, has taken to witchcraft to preserve her youth, and when a neighbor steals greens from her yard, the witch takes their Margherita for use in her own dark magic.
De La Force is the real life author of a Rapunzel variation, and Forsyth's novel guesses at how this Frenchwoman might have heard of the Venetian original. Using the Venetian motifs in her own version, Forsyth mixes magic and history, and comes up with a delicious and heartbreaking treat.
Forsyth's writing is evocative and pretty without feeling heavy or ornate; she conveys a sense of time and place without the dreaded infodump. What I appreciated, as well was that she doesn't mince words about the way women were treated in these eras -- she creates strong heroines who are quite real but don't reek of anachronism.
Like others on this tour, I'm totally unwilling to part with my copy of this book. I had hoped to offer a giveaway but Book Depository doesn't have this one available yet. Keep your eye out -- if you like fairy tales, French history, and escapist historical fiction, you'll want this novel.