At some point last year there was a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about Kate Forsyth’s novel Bitter Greens. Every review raved about this brilliant historical novel, which is, among other things, a retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel.
For some reason, maybe because of the fairy-tale retelling bit, I was under the impression that it was a YA historical. (It definitely is not.) At any rate, I very much wanted to read the book, but I couldn’t get hold of a copy. U.S. bookstores didn’t carry it. Amazon had used copies but not many. Even The Book Depository failed me. It was "currently unavailable" for months and months.
Finally, with Forsyth’s new book, The Wild Girl, coming out (but also not available in the US?) and still frustrated that I had yet to read Bitter Greens, I decided to buy a used copy from Amazon.
Charlotte-Rose’s "memoir" is fascinating reading. It alone would carry a novel. But while in the convent, Charlotte-Rose hears the stories of Rapunzel and of the witch. Both are presented as factual, so the reader hears the fairy tale as history and the book morphs into a marvelous sort of medieval fantasy. Men’s wickedness, women’s relative lack of power, sex and witchcraft are all twisted together until an innocent girl ends up locked in a tower. The parallels with Charlotte-Rose’s incarceration in the nunnery are clear, along with other similarities between her life and Rapunzel/Margherita’s.
The three women’s stories are equally compelling and Forsyth’s pacing of them is perfect. Even though I hated to leave off one thread, I was anxious to see what was going on with the others. And so it was nearly impossible to stop reading because I had to keep up with all three tales. The writing is beautiful and so vivid that the boundaries between the fairy tale and the historical fiction blurred. Normally I prefer historical fiction to be realistic and historical fantasy to stay on its own side of the line, but this book was simply magical.
If you can find a copy of Bitter Greens, I highly recommend it. This is my 23rd book for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.