I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
‘You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles. He sat at the head of the long wooden table in the chateau’s arched dining room, lifting his lip in distaste as the servents brought us our usual peasant fare of sausage and white-bean cassoulet. He had not accustomed himself to our simple Gascon ways, not even after four years.
I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword! You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?’
It is 1666 in France and Charlotte-Rose is summonsed to the court of Louis XII. In 1590 Margherita meets Selena Leonelli for the first time. In Venice in 1580 a desperate girl engages the skills of the sorceress Selena Leonelli, better known as the muse of artist Tiziano. Three stories, spread across two countries and more than a century, the telling slips back and forth through time. ‘Bitter Greens’ is the story of Rapunzel by another name. Just as Rapunzel was known by many names. It is the story of beauty and its costs; of what it was to be a woman; of choices seized and choices removed. Three women of their times reveal their worlds, their strengths and challenges.
What a grand novel! Bitter Greensstitches together the richest fabric, multi-hued and glorious, from threads both fine and coarse. Part fairy tale, part history, part magic, it pulls you in and refuses to let you go. Along the way, there are so many twists and turns, each one a new thread to be sewn until the picture is complete. Charlotte-Rose and Selena tell their stories in the first person, while Margherita’s is told in third person. Quotes from Rupunzel retellings preface each section and remind how a story is shaped by the teller as they make it their own. Bitter Greensexamines the French court, the wildness of Venice and the superstition and fragility of both. It is a story that lingers in the mind, long after the final page is turned.
Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth, Vintage 2012 ISBN: 9781741668452
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author