“Oh, I must have some of the witch’s rampion, or I shall surely die.” And so, compelled by an overwhelming pregnancy craving, Rapunzel’s mother launched an evil pact: a baby girl in exchange for some bitter greens.
Author Kate Forsyth researched all of the Rapunzel stories told down through the centuries and re-imagined them in three women’s stories spanning the seventeenth century, folded into one another over and over. As the novel begins, we see the writer and socialite Charlotte-Rose de la Force in despair as she is forced to join a convent after being banished from the sparkling court of King Louis XIV in 1690. She refuses to believe that she will be there long, but as the dreary days go by she is befriended by one of the older nuns who enlists her help in the garden and spins tales of a young girl a century ago who was locked up in a tower by an evil witch who climbs into the tower using the girl’s long hair. These three stories of Charlotte Rose, the witch herself, and the girl in the tower are told alternately throughout this spellbinding novel. Tucked in between the chapters are snippets of the classic Rapunzel story as told by many authors over the years. The three stories come together startlingly, yet perfectly, at the end.
Historical fiction and retold fairy tales are two of my favorite genres, and Bitter Greens was a skilled example of both. Sensitive readers should take note that the author often states that there were three paths available to women in the seventeenth century: wife, nun, or prostitute (and I cleaned that up a bit). There is one particularly gruesome scene, but also a pervasive understanding of sex as a way to achieve goals, whether it is just food and shelter or social climbing. There are also beautiful romances, of course. Forsyth has penned an absorbing tale that will make twenty-first century women appreciate their freedom to follow their dreams while reveling in the eternal beauty of true love. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed as solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.