Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Girls in Towers

Yesterday was pretty productive. I got a fair amount of research reading done, and I had a few plot idea breakthroughs. I'm starting to see bits of mental movie for this book again. I've also done some PR thinking and planning. I may be about to make the scary leap into Twitter. I have a few more ideas I need to implement, so stay tuned for news.

In the meantime, I have a book to discuss! As you may have noticed, I have a thing for fairy tales. I also love history. And magic. I found a book that combines all of them, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. It's a Rapunzel story that's also about the writing of the Rapunzel story. The story of the maiden in a tower may possibly have been a folk tale, but there were two very early published versions, so it might also have been what's often called a "literary fairy tale" that was written by a particular author, like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or Peter Pan. The earliest version was Italian, and then there was a later French version, but apparently it would have been unlikely for the French author to have seen, heard of, or read the Italian version. This novel attempts to explain this. I suppose in a way that this book could be considered historical magical realism because the fantasy element is that the folk magic that was actually practiced -- love charms, curses, and the like -- really is magic and really works. But the book is based somewhat on real people and real events.

The author of the French version of the Rapunzel story was a scandalous noblewoman and novelist. She was banished to a convent by Louis XIV after one scandal too many. That much is true. In this novel, while she's in the convent, the elderly nun who tends the garden befriends her, and while they work in the garden together, the older nun tells her the story of a young girl who's taken away from her parents by a witch and locked in a tower.

The narrative involves stories within the story. There's the framing story of the woman being sent to the convent and trying to adapt to the abrupt change in lifestyle. There's the story the older nun tells about the girl in the tower. There are flashbacks to the main character's life, from childhood on up, explaining what led to her being sent to the convent. And then we also get the story of the witch's life and why she locked the girl in the tower.

If you're into history, there's a fun look at life in the court of Louis XIV and at life in Renaissance Venice. I found myself digging up Baroque music and wanting to read more about both time periods. The Rapunzel part of the story is one of the more interesting fairy tale fleshing-outs I've read. It makes the story make so much more sense by getting into the motives of everyone involved (and even explains the salad craving and why the witch is so uptight about her garden being invaded). I admit that the book was a bit slow-going at first, but it picked up once I got into it.

Now I think I need to re-watch Tangled.

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