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Poison

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  640 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
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 yo ...more
Paperback, 317 pages
Published September 1st 1996 by HarperCollins (first published 1995)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,218)
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Rebecca Huston
Set in seventeenth century Spain, this book follows the stories of two women, born on the same day, but in very different circumstances. Francisca is the daughter of an impoverished silk farmer, accused of witchcraft and imprisoned by the Inquisition. Maria Luisa is the queen of Carlos II, and a niece of Louis XIV, miserable in her marriage and desperate to have a child. The author scrambles up history, over-focuses on the nastier aspects of the time, such as torture, a fixation on breast milk, ...more
Doria
Jan 15, 2015 Doria rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Recynd
Well, "Poison" is not one of my favorites, not by a long shot. While Harrison is obviously devoted to her craft (you can tell by the way each sentence is so elegantly put together that the author is less storyteller than she is an artist, whose medium is words), the WAY she chose to tell her story left me cold and more than a bit confused.

Let me state up front that I'm a simple sort: I'm the most comfortable with traditional literary devices, like well-developed characters, linear(ish) storyline
...more
☕Laura
Oct 16, 2013 ☕Laura rated it really liked it
This book relates the stories of two young women during the time of the Spanish inquisition: Francisca, a silk-grower's daughter involved in an illicit affair with a priest, and Marie Louise de Bourbon, a queen stuck in an unhappy marriage based on political motives. Their lives are loosely intertwined but for the most part they represent parallel stories. Francisca narrates the story throughout, so that it alternates between first- and third-person. However, there is an omniscience to her accou ...more
Jean
Apr 12, 2011 Jean rated it really liked it
This very unusual historical novel illuminates the plight of women in Spain during the Inquisition. The principal characters share the same birthday and both are doomed. Francesca, the erotic daughter of a silk farmer is accused of witchcraft. Maria, a French princess married to the revolting (and impotent) king of Spain gets the blame for being barren. The book is filled with fascinating information about silk worms, cures for infertility, ancient medical practices, 17th century superstitions, ...more
Vanessa
Aug 12, 2009 Vanessa rated it really liked it
This book was phenomenally interesting... but phenomenally depression. It takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, and tells the story of 2 different women... one the Queen of Spain, and the other a poor farm girl who is accused of witchcraft (because she had an affair with a Catholic priest).

Before you read this book, I recommend that you look up some information about "Mad King Carlos II" of Spain. It will provide you with some valuable information about the Spanish royal family, and why t
...more
Linda Tuplin
Sep 20, 2010 Linda Tuplin rated it really liked it
Beautifully written, about love during the time of the Spanish Inquisiton, and the danger in being a woman during a time when women and love were suspect. Two parallel lives, one a commoner in love with a priest, the other a French princess married to the mad King Carlos II of Spain, one destroyed because of love, the other destroyed for lack of it. The two main characters are so well developed you really feel you are conversing with them as they reminise about their lives as they near its end. ...more
linda
Dec 23, 2010 linda rated it liked it
My favorite of Kathyrn Harrison's novels, that darts between two women in vastly different social spheres and suffer this sort of debilitating and bleak lack of choice that I only really truly understood toward the very end. I found this paralyzingly creepy, but maybe that was only me. And maybe it's just Kathryn Harrison -- whose work I usually find paralyzingly creepy on some degree.
Megan-Elise
Aug 10, 2011 Megan-Elise rated it it was ok
Though there is no fault with Harrison's prose, which is gorgeously delivered, I was not a fan of the narrative style. I found it difficult to follow, and felt that the majority of the novel was exposition, which was quite boring. Though there are some real gut wrenching moments, I had to push myself to finish the book and be done with it.
Doralyn
Nov 22, 2008 Doralyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a well-written book about the scary effects of the church's power in Spain a few centuries ago. The summary on the back of the book was wrong as it stated that the queen's future was dreamt of by Francisca, when that didn't happen at all. I don't know why it even said that. Maybe whoever did the write-up didn't actually read the book.
Kathy
Mar 27, 2010 Kathy rated it did not like it
I started out with hope for an interesting historical novel, but winds deeper and deeper into some kind of madness....not sure if its the characters' or the author's. Made me start to feel as sick as the characters and gave up 3/4 the way through and I hardly ever give up on a book that's taken me that far.
Laura
May 26, 2014 Laura rated it liked it
beautifully written. Kathryn Harrison's prose shines, however the book reminds me of a Hieronymus Bosch painting of Hell. That's why it only gets 3 stars from me. Also, the history is incorrect, altho one does get a nasty taste of what late 1600 Spain was like.

I also have to add a line that really made me laugh--it has to do with the Dr.'s training and the proliferation of poisoning in the royal houses of Europe: If only the University of Leyden had offered a curriculum in poisonings. But that w
...more
Sarah Sammis
I have to agree with with those who found Francisca's story distracting. Her narration seems to offer nothing more than padding. The book would have been a much tighter and compelling tragedy if it only followed the Queen's hardships.
Dee Condon
Sep 13, 2014 Dee Condon rated it liked it
The writing was beautiful in this book. The story was very interesting. Very much a woman's book, with issues of motherhood, dreams unfulfilled, passion & lose. My only drawback was I found the continuity was difficult
Daina Rowell
Aug 04, 2011 Daina Rowell rated it it was ok
I loved the way the author captured the characters every nuance of feeling but the subject matter was a bit dull for me. I already knew how it ended and the journey to get there seemed long, tedious, and convoluted.
Martha
Oct 05, 2015 Martha rated it liked it
The book, set in the 17th century during the Spanish Inquisition, follow the paths of Francisca, a commoner, and of Maria Luisa (neé Marie Louise d'Orleans), Queen Consort to Carlos II of Spain. Francisca is the narrator and observer, who recalls her life and the life of Maria Luisa from her prison cell in Madrid.

The story of Francisca, which begins with her childhood in a family of silk growers, is tragic and compelling. By comparison, the artifice the author uses of Francisca being hear of and
...more
Kathleen
Mar 06, 2009 Kathleen rated it did not like it
Very disjointed writing style which is why it gets I star. Did make me do research into Queen Maria Louisa and Carlos II. Disturbing period of history
Susan Chapek
The parallel stories are told in lush, intricate, intimate, sensual language. Almost dizzying to read some of it.

The narrator grows up on a silkworm farm, and the writing continually reminded me of the kinds of silk being produced in those decades of the Sun King's reign--elaborate, busy patterns which were then sewn into elaborate, busy clothes. Clothes so rich and heavy that, Harrison notes more than once, they weighed a body down with their many-layered beauty. Well, her prose is a bit like
...more
Patty
Dec 31, 2015 Patty rated it did not like it
A novel set in Spain during the 1600s, focusing half on Queen Marie Louise, the French wife of Carlos II (who is primarily famous today for being the most extreme example of Hapsburg inbreeding, and he certainly suffered for his ancestors' choices), and half on a young peasant woman imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition. I liked the parts about the Queen more than the other character, if only for the reason that the Queen's plot had actual characters and events, rather than the ramblings of a so ...more
Stacie
Nov 06, 2008 Stacie rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joanne
Jan 21, 2013 Joanne rated it it was amazing
The author, while taking creative license with historical facts, does so brilliantly. Those who are already familiar with French and Spanish royalty in the 1660's will still find a tale plaited with mysteries.

As a storyteller, she excels.

As a poetic author, she shines. When every sentence lilts, it is easy to go so overboard that the reader is knocked unconscious by the heady perfume of poetry and lose the story under the petals- Kathryn Harrison does not fall prey to that pitfall, and pulls i
...more
Kate
Feb 13, 2014 Kate rated it it was ok
I won't argue that the writing is gorgeous, but it's not enough to counteract the gloom and despair of the story itself.

Right from the start you learn that both main characters are doomed. The author then proceeds to fill the remaining 300 pages with a series of heart-wrenching, soul-sucking events that never let up.

I had to dig deep to keep picking this book back up. More than once I considered giving up on it entirely, but I had to find out if the author left any kind of reward or redemption
...more
Gina
Aug 31, 2012 Gina rated it really liked it
I actually found this book in a box on the street. I love historical novels and this one did not disappoint. But it is not for the faint of heart. I follows the lives of two women during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. One is a french princess that is matched to the king of Spain who is basically an invalid. A queen's job is basically to produce an heir. Even if it is not the queen's fault, she is always blamed if there is none. This offers a realistic look into the unglamorous life of the ...more
Ruth
Mar 16, 2016 Ruth rated it it was amazing
One of those amazing books that makes me buy everything else I can find from the author.
It's a parallel story. I kept waiting for the two main characters to meet, but they never do. Both women are trapped by their circumstances. It's an amazing story.
Cathy
Mar 17, 2016 Cathy rated it liked it
I enjoy historical fiction because I usually learn a few things while being entertained with a good story. Poison tells the parallel stories of Francisca and Queen Maria Louisa, two beloved young girls whose lives change after they lose their mothers: one when her mother becomes the wet nurse to the future king of Spain, the other when she leaves France to marry this king. I learned a bit about silkworms and the silk industry, the Spanish Inquisition, King Carlos of Spain, 17th century clothing ...more
Susan Hansford
Dec 02, 2007 Susan Hansford rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys historical novels
The reader is plunged into 17th century Spain with Kathryn Harrison's exquisite detail... the book is filled with fascinating historical details: silk worms and exotic poisons, court life and the dungeons of the Inquisition, wet-nurses and dwarfs, religion and politics.
There's love in this book, and lots of sadness. There are lessons to learn and metaphors for life. People to care about. Sin, deception, betrayal. And, when the book is over, there is the feeling of having lived for a short while
...more
Carole Roman
Jun 08, 2013 Carole Roman rated it it was amazing
Captivating read about the life of a French Princess wedded to the Spanish heir to the throne in the 17th century. Beautifully written, Harrison recreates the glittering Hapsburg Spanish court, filled with treachery, adultery and murder. Not for readers expecting a light historical read, its the tragedy of two girls, one a princess the other a peasant, and traces the impotency of finding happiness in their own lives. Faced with torture, with no one to trust, its a depressing spiral downward of t ...more
Zoe Jean
Nov 06, 2012 Zoe Jean rated it it was amazing
Loosely based on King Carlos II who ruled Spain from 1665 to 1700, and his French wife, Princess Marie Louise, along with the production of silk, from worms to cloth, and the Spanish Inquisition.
What struck me about this book was the restrained and sometimes unrestrained passion for life, death, love and lust. Ms.Harrisons prose is exquisite, through the entire book. Some may find her writing style of going back and forth in time a bit disconcerting, but once you have the rhythm of the book, it
...more
Judy King
May 01, 2012 Judy King rated it liked it
The time of the inquisition seems to be one of history's most complicated; the history of Spain for about 300 years at the same general time is extremely complicated. While much of this book was very enjoyable, other sections were unnecessarily complicated. Intellectually I understand why she named the book Poison -- the silk work angle was mildly interesting but it seemed to add extra unnecessary length and detail to an already long and detailed book. I was anxious to read this; enjoyed parts a ...more
Michelle
Mar 21, 2015 Michelle rated it liked it
Beautiful writing. Somehow though, the story just did not pull me in. I kind of just wanted to know what happened and be done with it.
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Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water.

She has also written memoirs, The Kiss and The Mother Knot, a travel memoir, The Road To Santiago, a biography, Saint Therese Of Lisieux, and a collection of personal essays, Seeking Rapture.

Ms. Harrison is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; her essay
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“But as soon as she came here . . . she knew that she had lost what she wanted, that the life she had as a girl was the one she desired always, that she had no need of a prince, but only her dreams of a prince.” 0 likes
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