Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

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.

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

Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth, Vintage 2012 ISBN: 9781741668452

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls

‘Craig, hi,’ Don said, stepping forward and reaching out his hand. ‘Don Nordenstrom. Welcome to Normal.’ He said it as if Normal was just any other name on the map. Welcome to Paxton, welcome to Peoria. The weirdness of welcoming someone to normal had long ago rubbed away.

Being welcomed to Normal is just one of the wonderful quirky moments in this collection of eight short stories from Queenl;and’s Nick Earls. The settings and situations vary – often far from normal as the protagonists travel far from home to explore their own or their travel mates’ pasts, experiencing moments which could be ordinary but manage not to be. Though each story is unique, recurrent motifs of travel, self-discovery and relationship problems travel across stories. Some stories are seen through the eyes of young protagonists watching their parents’ tempted to infidelity and revisiting the places of their yuth.

A favourite story for me was The Heart of Robert the Bruce with a couple travelling through Spain, alleviating the difficulty of being mismatched with another couple as travel partners and so challenging each other to introduce outrageous yet plausible lies into dinner table conversation. Watching the lies grow at the same time as the protagonists’ understanding of their own relationship is both fun and moving, and a lie involving Karen the GPS voice was a highlight.

Welcome to Normal is a wonderful blend of everyday, quirky and thought-provoking.

Welcome to Normal

Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls
Vintage, 2012
ISBN 9781864711547

This book is available from good bookstores or online fro Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska

‘How good you look,’ Martha says as they embrace, and Jericho sees the pleasure in her face. When he first came down from the mountain to Rika, barely five years old, she was the other mother. Rika and Martha. They were younger than he is now, and he thinks again of how it must have been for them, in a country that wasn’t theirs, suddenly presented with a small child to raise.

In 1968 when Rika travels to Papua New Guinea with her filmmaker husband Leonard, she feels a connection to the place, even whilst unsettled by its difference. She loves to explore and to capture the place and its people with her camera. But life on the university campus is confronting. It is a time of change for this emerging nation as it moves towards independence from colonial Australia, and there is friction between locals and visiting westerners. But it is meeting clan-brothers Jacob and Aaron that changes Riak – and her friends’ – lives for ever.

The Mountain is a moving novel, exploring both the years leading up to Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975, and the years since, with the challenges of that independence and the impact of modernisation on this beautiful country. Having spent time in the country myself, I was struck by the familiarity of the people and the landscapes, but for those who have not visited, this will provide a wonderful perspective both of the beauty of the place and the complexities of a country finding its way. The story, too, is marvellous, with a fabulous cast of characters, and themes of grief, love and betrayal.

A beuatiful, moving and disturbing tale, spanning two generations.

The Mountain

The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska
Vintage Books, 2012

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this book supports Aussiereviews.

A Child's True Book of Crime, by Chloe Hooper

Having an affair with a married man is always risky, more so when that man is the father of your star pupil. And when his wife has just written a book about a murder with strange parallels to your own situation, then the affair is positively dangerous.

Kate Byrne is aware of these risks, yet continues her affair with Thomas Marnes, hoping his wife Veronica does not know.

When late-night phone calls and unexplained car troubles begin to effect her, it is too late to tun back. She must weather the storm as she is carried on an unstoppable tide of fear.

A Child’s True Book of Crime
is a stunning first novel, from the talented Chloe Hooper. It is a hard book to classify – part thriller, part satire, part literary fiction – and even part children’s story. But it is the inability to classify the book which makes it so intriguing. It is unlike any other book.

A Child’s True Book of Crime, by Chloe Hooper
Vintage, 2002