Sunday 30 July 2023


Finished July 27
Poison by Kathryn Harrison

This historical novel of the late 1600s follows two women, born on the same day, one a real figure and one not. Francesca de Luarca is the daughter of a Spanish silk grower. Her father's family has been in the business for years, and owns their own fields. Her grandfather held to tradition and what has worked in the past, but her father Felix has other ideas. He has heard about new mulberry trees that offer better yields, and wants to try them, but is thwarted by Francesca's grandfather. After the grandfather's death, Felix makes the changes he has dreamed of, but the results are not as he hoped. And so Francesca's mother, Conception takes on work as a wet nurse, eventually in the king's household.
Maria Luisa, first wife of King Carlos (Charles II) was born a French princess, niece to the Sun King, Marie Louise D'Orleans. She married the King on the way to the capital, shortly after crossing into Spain, in Quintanapalla. It is here that the two women first cross paths, as Francesca is in the crowd of people observing the couple as they emerge from the church. 
This is also the time of the Inquisition where there is much suspicion arising from any unusual events or behaviour outside of the norm. So when Francesca becomes involved with a priest, and is eventually discovered, she finds herself marked as a witch. 
Marie Louise's inability to conceive also arouses suspicion and when she is discovered in deception, things deteriorate for her as well. 
This is a story of women and their strong ties to their mothers, how love and fate determine their lives, and how society's reaction to their actions bring about their downfall. 
The stories of the two women only touch slightly, but Francesca's story winds around that of the Queen, and the narrative moves fluidly between them and across their lives to show the commonalities. 

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