8 March 2014

Bitter Greens - Kate Forsyth

It's time to take another look at yet another fairytale retelling. This time, Rapunzel gets a makeover, and this time there are three tales woven into the plot. The first is that of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a French writer with an extraordinary life, exiled to a nunnery by King Louis, the second is that of Selena Leonelli, an Italian courtesan, muse to a great painter but frightened that time will take away her beauty, and the third is our Rapunzel, Margherita, a young girl taken from her family by a witch and forced to live her life in a tower with dark secrets within.

So far, so good; this book manages to combine three very well-written characters and make the story something extremely interesting. The only downside was that it starts with Charlotte-Rose's going to the nunnery and her first impressions on being there. It then tells the story of a woman who falls in love with a man and makes him fall in love with her through the help of a witch. As of yet, there is no sign of this being the story of Rapunzel, and that it where the book lets you down. The story that you would buy the book for only really gets going when you are half-way through the book. Instead, we have several strands of the story, seemingly nothing to do with each-other, and the backgrounds of characters that you never see again, such as Margherita's mother. However, once you do complete the book, you find that all of this was valuable information contributing to the character and the final few chapters, where all this comes nicely into place.

Therefore, I am unsure as to whether I liked this book or not. When I finally did get to the middle of the book, I was completely wrapped up in the story, about what happens to Selena Leonelli and Margherita, and how Margherita comes to be the witch's undoing. Also, I felt the big reveal was rather easy to decipher, as I was quite sure of the twist from the moment I began reading about the witch.

I did like the way that this story was woven in with reality so that it could be believed that all of the story were real events that have been told so many times that they have become fairytales. It is a lovely idea, and one that I enjoy seeing in many of the fairytale retellings I have read, most notably in Confessions of an Evil Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. This brings me on nicely to the fact that it included the French court of Louis XIV, and Charlotte-Rose, which steeped the story in a lovely account of a part of  history that I have not previously been exposed to.

This is certainly a Rapunzel for grown-ups, there are some quite disturbing scenes, as well as very sexual ones that a child should not be reading. The themes are also quite adult; there is so much about death, despair, anger and politics. However, along with that comes a fervour for love conquering all and a good dose of magic, though I believe that it could easily be interpreted as plain science in today's world.

I am giving this book a 7 out of 10, simply for the fact that it did not get fully into the story for some way.