Kayla Harris

Poison – Sarah Pinborough (Warning: Potential Spoiler)

As I mentioned in my ‘return-to-work’ blog, I have found a new interest in fairy tales and I have been working my very slow way through many translations of the Brothers Grimm from authors such as Jack Zipes and Philip Pullman. About this time last year, it was suggested to me that maybe I would be interested in the works of Angela Carter and of course, I had far too many books on my to-do list and Angela was put off for quite some time. Anyhow, I eventually picked up The Bloody Chamber and from there it was a downhill ride in the Fairytale obsession stakes!!

A short time into my journey through The Fairytales of Charles Perrault the same person that suggested Angela Carter, bought me a gift; Poison by Sarah Pinborough. He thought it would give me extra food for thought whilst I was enjoying the fairytale theme. So I sat down one Sunday morning and I started reading. By late Sunday afternoon, I closed the book having read from cover to cover with very little pause for toilet and meal breaks!!

To say the least, Poison is a very easy read and it is written very closely in tune with the way in which the original fairytales are written with its simplistic language and matter of fact attitude. However, Sarah grows up this version by a good few years and I certainly would not be reading it to my children at bedtime, especially some chapters.

My initial reaction when I finished the book was similar to Mr Gru’s mother in Despicable Me. For those not familiar with this awesome film, it means I wasn’t instantly impressed. I basically shrugged and thought ‘it was alright’. However, my impressions were being overshadowed by the writings of Angela Carter, who had blown me away, making anything else I read weak in comparison, so I knew it was hardly a fair reaction.

Recently, I recommended Poison to some customers at the bookshop I work in after certain memorable moments crept back to me. While we were discussing it, I realised that I massively overlooked some clever and subtle writing. I decided to analyse what I had read further.

Initially what Sarah does, is take the story of Snow White and add sex and gore and little twists of adult themes to it. But she also darkens the underlying issues quite a lot. I really like her characterisation of each personality within the story.  Given that the story is relatively short there is little room for adding much background to each character, but Sarah handles this nicely by slicing little details in here and there and you gain a real sense of what experiences they’ve encountered or why they are the type of person they are, without it ever really being spelled out.

All of her storytelling and imagery is written in the classic way that we find within retellings of the Brothers Grimm etc., but because it was countered with some very detailed adult themes I often found myself wanting to read a more mature language. I think it’s simply due to the fact that this level of adult content is not usually encountered when reading fairytales and when it still reads like one, it can be difficult to get passed it. But upon completion, I certainly respected the way in which it was written a lot more and felt that the mini novel should be given the credit nonetheless.

The element that struck me the most was the Prince Charming character. Our hero in this story is certainly not portrayed as a classic Disney Prince Charming. Sarah does a respectable job of disguising his true nature in a very smart and subtle way and this is where I ‘big up’ my respect to her knowledge. Sarah manages to describe exactly the kind of character who would, of course, take an instant shine to a damsel in distress. For me, I feel she potentially makes the reader see things a little differently and forces them to take a different view on this seemingly perfect stranger.

For me what Sarah highlights here is the fact that we see an intelligent, but ultimately vulnerable, young woman who has managed to seduce her way out of being killed by the huntsman sent by her step-mother, gone into hiding and set up a slightly strange way of life with some dwarfs and then poisoned into a death-like sleep whereby she spends a considerable amount of time cooped up in a glass coffin. She is then awakened and finds herself in the arms of a handsome fellow who is seemingly besotted with her and is promising the world to her.

Throughout the beginning of the book we see Snow White portrayed as a strong and intelligent, yet sometimes defiant, character that speaks her own mind. But we also see a glimpse of a soft and kind-hearted person who can be won over with guilt trips and tears, someone who desperately sees the good in people and is devastated by the realisation that evil really does exists. So despite her intelligence and boldness, underneath it all she is just another vulnerable young female and that is ultimately the reason why she finds herself manipulated and herded into another desperate situation. Her guard is completely down after her harrowing ordeals and she is, quite understandably, pretty keen for a happy ending and that means she is just a little too naive when she agrees to allow this man to whisk her off her feet…

The reason I found Sarah’s Poison worthy of a mention is because she has done a fine job at highlighting underlying domestic issues, which are encountered every day and yet still fail to be acknowledged by so many vulnerable women. For those savvy enough to pick it up, it is a reminder that no matter what, you should never rely on others to save your life. To others, it would just be a saucy read with a nasty sting in the tale…


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