After a string of scandalous love affairs, Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from the court of Versailles by King Louis XIV and sent away to a convent. Stripped of her fine clothes, her jewels and her precious writing materials, Charlotte-Rose is distraught. A kind nun takes pity on her and invites her to work in the convent’s beautiful garden.
In this lush setting, the nun tells her a poignant tale about a young girl sold by her parents to a witch for a handful of bitter greens. The young girl, Margherita, who lived 100 years earlier, is imprisoned in a high tower by the witch, with the hair of previous prisoners sewn onto hers. Growing from child into womanhood in the tower, Margherita sings and dreams of rescue, until one day someone hears her.
We also learn the story of flame-haired, artist’s muse Selena Leonelli who has become hardened by her plights and clings on to her beauty in her whirlwind life of seduction and power in Venice. Based on the original telling of the fairytale Rapunzel, the three women’s tales are plaited together like Rapunzel’s legendary hair.
There is a fascinating foreword on the origins of the Rapunzel story, Rapunzel extracts from literature throughout the novel and a very interesting afterword about the fate of Charlotte-Rose. I absolutely adored the character of Charlotte-Rose, who being unfortunately not considered pretty at court, used her intelligence, wits and sharp storytelling skills to get by in life. With themes of love, beauty, seduction and power, I found this a fantastically compelling novel. Sexy and scandalous, Bitter Greens truly enchanted me from start to finish.