Bitter Greens

  • by Kate Forsyth
  • Narrated by Kate Reading
  • 19 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From internationally best-selling author Kate Forsyth comes a historical novel that gorgeously interweaves the Rapunzel fairy tale with the true life story of French novelist Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force.
Charlotte-Rose has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sister Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, 100 years earlier, was sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens.
After Margherita's father steals from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. Selena is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.
Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.
This sumptuous novel holds the stories of three women, braided together to create a compelling tale of desire, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. Bitter Greens is an impressive feat of storytelling.

More

See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Rich, Dark and Fascinating

Partly based on the true life story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force—a cousin of the Sun King, Louis XIV—who was banished from the court of Versailles by the King for a series of scandalous affairs to live in a nunnery, this book interweaves her own life story with the fairy tale we've come to know as Rapunzel. According to Wikipedia, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, or Mademoiselle de La Force, was a French novelist and poet, and her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story Rapunzel, though it seems this story originally came from an Italian folk tale which Mademoiselle de La Force would have had no way of becoming acquainted with, and Kate Forsyth uses her ample skill as a novelist to suggest how this now famous fairy tale might have been transmitted to her.

When Charlotte-Rose arrives at the convent where she is to spend the rest of her life locked up and isolated from the rest of the world, she meets with a harsh and brutal reception. Stripped of her luxurious court garments and shorn of her cascading locks of hair, then systematically bullied by her overseer, she is eventually taken under the wing of an old nun, Soeur Seraphina, who comforts her with an old Italian folk tale about a young girl who was taken from her parents because her father has stolen a handful of bitter greens; before little Margherita was born, her mother nearly died during the pregnancy because she was unable to eat. At her request, her husband stole a handful of herbs from the garden of the renowned courtesan next door. According to the story, Selena Leonelli was a famous courtesan in the Venice in the 16th century, the favourite model of a great painter, and by that point also a powerful witch with dark powers. When she catches Margherita's father stealing the herbs, she threatens him with declaring him to the authorities, the punishment for theft being the cutting off of both hands. A bargain is made, and so the parents must agree to eventually give their daughter away. On her seventh birthday, Margherita is taken away, first to a convent to receive a proper education and then into a tower where she is shut off for years, her only visitor being Selena Leonelli on monthly calls and blood rites. There are monstrous secrets hidden in the tower, which has no doors nor stairs, and Margherita must drag around yards of hair which the witch uses to climb up to the only window every month, and the only company the girl has the rest of the time is her own beautiful voice to distract herself, with the hope that someday somebody might hear her and come to her rescue.

Kate Forsyth has a gift for storytelling and we get a narrative from three points of view: there is Charlotte-Rose, locked away in the convent and looking back on her youthful follies and excesses; Margherita in her tower, becoming a woman and looking back on her childhood while learning to outsmart a powerful witch; and Selena Leonelli, telling her own fascinating life story starting in the plague-ridden Venice of the early 16th century and explaining how and why she became Margherita's jailer. The long narrative of her life is perhaps the most fascinating of all.

I haven't yet read Angela Carter, and looking forward to redressing that omission, but from the descriptions I've read about the way she retells fairy tales, it seems Kate Forsyth has also adopted a very modern, adult and feminist point of view which is rich, dark and fascinating. Certainly miles away from the Disney folks and their ilk. A thrilling book with which to start the year, and heartily recommended.
Read full review

- Ilana "Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!"

Violence against women warning

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I'm returning this book because although I'm sure Forsyth is trying to communicate the tough lives women had in early modern Europe, there is far too much violence against women in the book for me to stomach. I finally had to stop listening after a particularly gruesome gang rape scene. If you have trouble listening to that type of thing, I'd suggest staying away from this title.


Read full review

- Brigid

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-23-2014
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.