Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Bitter Greens- Kate Forsyth

****

I am so glad that I found this book in the library. It’s so GOOD! It tells the tale of three women- their whole lives interwoven into a single story. Kate Forsyth has certainly done her homework on this one, finding the origins of the tale ‘Rapunzel’ and telling us how it made its way to being written in both Italian, and later French. Charlotte- Rose de Caumont de la Force was a noble at the Sun Court of Louis XIV, a real woman, and she is the lynch-pin of this whole story in a way.

As Forsyth tells the true story of her misfortunate life she weaves in the stories of Margherita (Persinette/Petrosinella/Rapunzel) an Italian child who was accidentally sold to a witch by her parents. The witch bathed in her blood for youth and longevity. Margherita is taken from her family to a nunnery to live until she is on the cusp of womanhood, and then transferred to an abandoned tower. She discovers that the witch has kept other girls there and as they died has shorn their heads. Margherita is forced to bear the weight of their hair as the witch has sewn it into the girl’s own. That story runs the way that the story of Rapunzel usually runs, except that in this version Margherita meets Giambattista Basile and tells him her story. He writes is down, but mentions to her that he would change the ending. (Giambattista Basile is the Italian man who first wrote down the story of Rapunzel)

The third woman that is integral to this story is the true lynch-pin, La Strega. The Witch. Selena Leonelli was born in Venice, the daughter of a courtesan. She grew up in a large house and dressed in the best clothes, but when her mother tries to leave the city a  rich and powerful patron has her punished severely (this scene is quite graphic and involves rape, so don’t buy this book for your kids) and she dies soon after, leaving Selena alone. She becomes apprenticed to a witch named Sibillia who bathes in her blood for youth and teaches her her secrets. She also binds Selena to Venice with a spell, preventing her from ever leaving. Selena thrives under Sibillia’s tutelage but then the plague comes to Venice and she is left alone once more. She carves a life for herself as a courtesan, now completely terrified by the passage of time. She has an affair with painter Tiziano and was immortalised in his work, but that was not enough. She took eight girls to the tower (Margharita being the ninth) and bathed in nine drops of their blood every month.

It’s a fascinating book and beautifully written, one that I recommend to all of you. I think all three women are fantastic examples of life in the time period, whilst obviously having elements of fantasy (Witchcraft, anyone?) My favourite would probably be Charlotte-Rose however, because she was a real person and because the things that happen to her in the book, really did happen. Even the more fantastical things like dressing in a bearskin so that she could smuggle herself into the home of her fiancé. She was daring and sparkly and just fantastic and I wish that she could have had a happier life, because if she didn’t exactly deserve it, she was still worthy of it.

This is definitely one that’s made it onto my buying list!

Let me know what you thought of it.

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

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