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Poisonby Kathryn Harrison
Synopses & Reviews
Francisca de Luarca, the daughter of a silk grower, is a dreamer of fabulous dreams — dreams in which the work of her father's silkworms is woven into robes for kings, cloaks for queens and carpets for their palaces. In far-off France, Marie Louise de Bourbon, niece of Louis XIV, dances in slippers of Spanish silk and imagines her own enchanted future. The lives of these two women — born on the same day, unfold in tandem, almost touching, as their destinies are spun out in seventeenth-century Spain. Francisca is consumed with passion for her lover, a Catholic priest; her obsession with him shapes her fate. Marie Louise, yoked by political expediency to the strange, impotent Carlos II of Spain, is blamed for the royal couple's childlessness, and forced to bear the consequences. In an atmosphere of superstition, the Inquisition conducts its reign of terror, ruthlessly destroying innocent lives. In countless tunnels beneath the city of Madrid, the Grand Inquisitor and his hooded torturers exact confessions from victims, even as two young women develop secret lives dedicated to resistance, transcendence and love. Written in gorgeous prose that has the sheen of silk, Kathryn Harrison's Poison vividly reminds us of the persistence of desire, the passion that exists between mothers and daughters, and the sorcery of dreams.
"Perhaps Harrison's most signal achievement in this story of two doomed women is her reflection of their time and place: Spain in the 17th century, a sordid and barbarous era. Harrison (Exposure) is totally in command of her tragic narrative, which proceeds with the stately, mesmerizing pace of a pavane, stepping to one side to look behind, to the other to look ahead. Francesca Luarca, a humble silk farmer's daughter, is arrested for witchery. Her story parallels that of Queen Maria Luisa, the French Bourbon princess married to the impotent king of Spain, whose inability to produce an heir to the throne condemns her to death as surely as imprisonment in the Inquisition's prisons dooms Francesca. Francesca commits several sins: she begs a priest to teach her to read (a dangerous ambition for a woman); he also introduces her to carnal delights and impregnates her. Francesca is destroyed by passion, the queen — who is also called a witch by the jeering mob — by its complete absence. Hovering over everything is the ominous shadow of the Inquisition, fed by a greedy, corrupt church that plays on fears of devils and witches but forgives "sins" on the payment of hefty fines. Harrison weaves a marvelous tapestry of almost palpable details: people in Madrid wore enormous jeweled spectacles, "an enhancement to dignity rather than eye-sight"; "the Spanish nobility's desire for loftiness was so intense and so literal that aristocratic women balanced on stilts." This is hardly an historical novel in its accepted sense, however, since Harrison pulls free of exact historical documentation. While richly imagined, the narrative is sometimes overwrought; being confined inside the heads of the poisoned, delirious queen and the peasant woman torn by the Inquisition's rack is a feverish experience. This claustrophobic darkness, the unremitting misery of the story, may deter some readers. For others, it will be an illuminating portrait of a woman's lot in an age poisoned by superstition and the church's tyranny." Publishers Weekly
"A wonderful novel, rich and wild and sweet." Washington Post Book World
"Vivid...remarkable...crystalline prose perfumed (but not too much) with musky eroticism, bigger enough than life to carry you away..." Chicago Tribune
"Fascinating...mesmerizing...a hypnotic tale...Poison is a rich tapestry." USA Today
"[Harrison's] brilliant descriptions and compelling examination of the minds and motivations of her two heroines, each condemned by society for wanting happiness, will maintain the author's reputation as a writer of power and rare sensibility." Library Journal
"A darkly lyrical and deeply disturbing tour de force." Booklist
"Poison is a hothouse of a novel, overwrought and heavily scented; it will not be to everybody's taste." Janet Burroway, New York Times
Set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, this hypnotic, luminous, and original novel by the critically acclaimed author of Exposure tells the story of two young women — a silk grower's daughter and a queen — struggling to survive in an atmosphere poisonous to passion, creativity and love.
Francisca de Luarac, the daughter of a poor Spanish silk grower, is a dreamer of fabulous dreams. Marie Louise de Bourbon, the niece of Louis XIV, dances in slippers of fine Spanish silk in the French Court of the Sun King and imagines her own enchanted future. Born on the same day--in an age when superstition, repression, and the Inquisition reign--the lives of these two young women unfold in tandem, barely touching. Each hoards the memory of her adored lost mother like an amulet. Francica's obsession with her lover, a Catholick priest, will shaper her fate. Marie Loouise is yoked by political expediency to the mad, imptoent Carlos II of Spain. But even as their twin destinies spiral inexorably toward disaster, both Queen and commoner cultivate a dangerous, secret life dedicated to resistance, transcendence, and love. Written in gorgeous prose that has the sheen of silk, Kathryn Harrison's POISON vividlyreminds us of the persistence of desire, the passion that exists between mothers and daughters, and the sorcery of dreams.
About the Author
Kathryn Harrison is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her first novel, Thicker Than Water, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1991. Her second novel, Exposure, was also a New York Times Notable Book, and a national bestseller. She lives in New York City with her husband, the writer Colin Harrison.
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