Reading Life


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is an enchanting read. Forsyth mixes characters based on historical people with fable.

In the novel, readers meet Charlotte-Rose de La Force after she has been banished from Louis XIV's court and sent to a nunnery. 

The real life Charlotte-Rose de La Force wrote the Rapunzel or "Persinette" story which was adapted by the brothers Grimm.

In this fictionalized version of events, Charlotte hears the tale from Soeur Seraphina, her only friend at the convent where she is imprisoned.

Like a master tapestry weaver, Forsyth weaves the stories of the three women: Charlotte, Margherita, and  and Maria, the "strega bella," who renames herself Selena.

Most readers are familiar with the Rapunzel story but Forsyth revitalizes it. Selena kidnaps Margherita from her home in Venice and entraps her in a high watchtower in Manerba.

In this is a multi-faceted story, Forsyth also gives us the witch's story. When her mother is horribly mistreated, Maria learns what injustice feels like and it marks the beginning of her transformation into wickedness. 

Maria who renames herself Selena acquires a lover, Tiziano, whose paintings immortalize her. Forsyth has some fun here with Titian, imagining that Selena is Titian's Venus

Selena stays young because she drinks the blood of the young red-headed girls she has kept in the tower. Tizano, on the other hand, sinks into old age.

Forsyth switches back and forth easily from Margherita and Selena's story in Italy to Charlotte de la Force's adventures in France during the reign of the sun King.

After losing the King's favor, Charlotte determines to marry a Marquis and pays a witch for a love spell. She lands in prison, but upon release, she chooses to marry for love.

What is remarkable is the way all of the women's lives parallel each other. All face terrible choices and are forced to choose between their happiness or safety. 

A sweeping and sensual drama, Bitter Greens is one of the best historical novels of 2014. 

For more information about this novel and about Kate Forsyth, see Sarah Johnson's interview of Forsyth in Johnson's blog, Reading the Past.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura Van Den Berg

Laura Van Den Berg's stories have a quirky feel much like  Rivka Galchen's stories. Characters are "at sea," weathering one emotional disturbances or another. All of the stories feature disappearances or marital break-ups.

In "Opa-Locka" a pair of sisters form a detective agency but seriously undermine their business when they acts recklessly. They track and then lose a client's husband. The incident weirdly mirrors their own childhood when their father disappears.

In "Lessons," a group of outlaws runaway from their sheltered existence.Dana takes her younger brother, who has Asperger-like symptoms, with her on a crime spree and later regrets the decision. 

In "Antarctica," a troubled young wife has left her husband without explanation. Her scientist husband dies in an explosion in Antarctica

The daughter of a magician in "The Great Escape," has always believed that her father had disappeared during a magic trick. The truth is far worst and more ordinary. Facing theft charges, the girl tries a disappearing trick of her own. 

Clearly, Van Den Berg's primarily deal with is  abandonment. Dana in "Lessons" is afraid the "gorillas" will leave Pinky behind. In "Opa-Locka," the sisters are still recovering from their father's disappearance.

A second motif is a crumbling marriage. The women in "Acrobat," "Isle of Youth" are each in a failed marriage; in its disintegration they come to a moment of enlightenment.

Laura Van Den Berg's latest work is a novel called Find Me

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