No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, July 22, 2007

#31: Louisa the Poisoner -- Tanith Lee

A novella rather than a novel, Louisa the Poisoner (77 pages including illustrations) was published in 1995. I hadn't even heard of it until recently ...
Louisa lived with her aunt in a cottage on the mire and for nineteen years knew no other life.

The (nameless) aunt, a nasty piece of work, raises Louisa to behave like a gentlewoman, even though her rings are made of bark and rushes and her cultured tones have been taught to her phonetically. One night, the aunt concocts an especially deathly poison: one drop ensures a painless death, two drops an agonising one; 'three drops and there's fire'.

Well! What can a poor girl do?

The aunt despatched (with a single drop: Louisa's not grudgeful), the girl sets out to seek her fortune. Finds her way to Maskullance Manor, home of a noble family who are variously intrigued or enraged by Louisa's beauty, humility and obvious breeding. Only the butler, Sheepshead, has a healthy suspicion of her, and questions the accidents which befall the members of the family at regular intervals.
Something protected him, something divine or demoniac. Louisa did not perfectly believe in such things, for in her world she had found no need of them, either for help or blame.

Eventually the inscrutable newcomer is hauled up before judge and jury. Witness for the defense: Sheepshead. Can Louisa's art win her freedom? And where will she go then?

Somewhat slight, but vintage Lee.

No comments:

Post a Comment