Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

A mix of historical fiction and dark fairytale, Bitter Greens, written by Kate Forsyth, expertly weaves the stories of three women over a 200-year period in French and Italian History.

Banished from the court of the megalomaniacal Sun King Louis XIV, Charlotte Rose de la Force must give up the trappings of her wealthy existence and submit to the harsh life of a Catholic nun. During her time at the convent she is comforted by an elderly nun who tells her the tale of a young girl whose parents sold her to a witch for a handful of bitter greens.

Charlotte Rose de la Force was an actual historical figure and author of many books, not the least being her version of the old Italian tale La Persinette (Little Parsley), which would later be adapted by the Grimm Brothers into the well-known Rapunzel story. In Bitter Greens, Forsyth gives an explanation as to how Madamoiselle la Force may have come by the story and uses facts of her partly known history to describe the beauty and terror of life at court.

The stories of Rapunzel and the history of the witch who held her captive are told separately, with three time frames running concurrently throughout the novel. Forsyth does an excellent job of maintaining tension in all three stories. At the same time she pays enough attention to detail to bring the settings of Absolution era France and Italy to life for the reader.

At 550 pages and with frankly confronting content at times, Bitter Greens does not make for a light summery afternoon read. However it is an extremely rich and satisfying historical novel with enough emotional payoff to ensure the reader feels abundantly compensated for the time spent devouring it.

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