December 30, 2012

Book Review - Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

This book intertwines the fairy story of Rapunzel with that of a witch in Renaissance Italy, and that of an actual historical figure, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a French writer who is said to have been a great influence on Sir Walter Scott, the father of modern fiction. Charlotte collected words:

"I liked to roll words over my tongue like a lump of molten honeycomb, savouring the sweetness, the crackle, the crunch. Cerulean, azure, blue. Shadowy, somber, secret. Voluptous, sensuous, amorous. Kiss, hiss, abyss.

Some words sounded dangerous. Pagan. Tiger.

Some words seemed to shine. Crystal. Glissade.

Some words changed their meaning as I grew older. Ravishing."

Charlotte's story covers her Huguenot family's fall in fortunes and her time at the sensual and extravagant French court of the Sun-King, Louis IV. Rapunzel's story is told by a nun in a strict convent and also in the first person by the witch's victim. And the witch's story becomes rather more complex than first thought. The author incorporates a great deal of historical detail seamlessly into the story, for example, you learn about Charlotte's clothing as she plays a game of strip poker with her lover; and about the food of the day as her childhood household prepares a great banquet for the visiting King. The chapters are headed by excerpts from different poets exploring the Rapunzel story, which adds to the deliciousness of the experience. This is a great read by an accomplished Australian wordsmith and highly recommended.


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