Friday, August 17, 2012


Poison is a 1995 fictional novel written by Kathryn Harrison on the story of two girls born in the same year, on the same day at the exact same hour: Francisca de Luarca and Marie Louise d'Orleans.

Francisca's Story
Francisca de Luarca lives a comfortable life in a tiny Spanish town with her Mother, elder sister, Dolores, and her silk farmer Father. Blinded by greed, her Father loses all their silkworms in an experimental treatment that was suppose to yield more profit but only caused the worms to wither and die. Short on funds, Francisca's Mother, Concepcion, leaves home to the Palace in Madrid to suckle King Carlos II of Spain. When she returns three years later, Concepcion is drained of all her strength, dying shortly afterwards.

Francisca turns to the town priest, Father Alvaro, for consolation over this tragic loss. Alvaro also begins educating Francisca in Latin and the lives of the Saints. The two grow close....a little too close and Francisca and Alvaro becomes lover. She conceives his child. Her jealous sister discovers the affair and reports the fallen priest to the Inquisition. He is arrested and later executed. Francisca gives birth to Alvaro's son, named Madeo, but he dies in his third year.

Francisca is arrested by the Inquisition for witchcraft and awaiting her execution.

Maria Luisa's Story
Marie Louise is very unhappy. Forced to leave her beloved homeland of France and marry the deformed Carlos II, she turns to laudanum, generously being supplied by a dwarf named Eduardo, to keep the sadness at bay.

Despite her husband's obvious physical attraction for her, Maria Luisa remains barren. Unable to stand the pressure placed upon her by the court, especially the Queen Mother, Mariana, she devises a plan to fool the court into thinking that she is pregnant. With the help of Eduardo, she hides her monthly stains and after a few months brings in pigs blood and scatters it about the room looking as if she has just miscarried. The ruse is soon discovered.

After going out with the visiting Olympe Mancini to the theater, Maria Luisa begins feeling a sharp pain in her abdomen and starts retching all over the place. Her decline is fast and it is apparent to everyone that she has been poisoned. Turns out it was the Queen Mother who was responsible for her daughter-in-law's death. With the help of Eduardo, she poisons the Queen with an overdose of an aphrodisiac.

Mariana dies shortly after Marie Louise in a terrible accident.

I give this book a 1/5. Is it just me or is there no such thing as a well written parallel story. I chose this book because it is one of the only (possibly just only) book on the tragic story of Marie Louise of Orleans. The story of Francisca was entertaining on its own however, I didn't really feel much of a connection between her and the Queen of Spain. The story itself is chronologically out of wack. One minute Francisca is referring her mother's death and then two chapters later she is alive and kicking. Another annoying quirk is that it will state something in the beginning of the book and then it happens later on. I don't mean foreshadowing but rather just straight up saying "This will happen". Not the most historically accurate book for example Marie Louise keeps pining for her Mother, Duchesse Henriette Marie of Orleans, who died when she was eight. It would've been more believable for me if it was her mother-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, who was said to have been a real Mother to Marie Louise. And just another example would be that Mariana died six years after Marie Louise due to breast cancer. But most of all I feel sorry for Carlos as the love between them never really showed - Marie Louise may not have loved him with a passion but she must have felt some affection for the only person in Spain who cared for her. Harrison completely missed on Marie Louise's passing words to  her husband, "Your Majesty may have other wives but no one will love you as I did."

P.S. On the subject of parralel stories, has anyone seen Madonna's "W.E", a movie on the romance of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII and a modern story involved Abby Cornish? 

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