Thursday, 29 May 2014

‘Poison’ – Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)

‘Take a wicked queen, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess and a poisoned apple…
and now read the true story of Snow White, told the way it always should have been…’

These days I’m a little loathe to pick up books promising to re-tell older tales, simply because I can never get away from the fact that I’ve already read it somewhere else. If I really want to re-read a book then I’ll go back to the original instead of reading a copy, a slight variation on the same theme. If it’s Sarah Pinborough telling the tale though, that’s a different matter entirely. I’ve read a few of Pinborough’s books now and have enjoyed the lot (just feel a bit sad that will be no more giant spider books…) so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’d read ‘Poison’. Now I want the next two books to hurry up and get themselves re-issued; partly because I want to find out what happened to the mouse and see whether Aladdin makes another appearance but mostly because Pinborough tells an enthralling tale and I want more of that. Right now, I’m really hard pressed to remember a time when I tore through two hundred pages of book so quickly.

Pinborough takes the original tale of Snow White and, well… doesn’t actually make any changes to the main plot for the most part. The game changer comes right at the end (and completely blew me away) but the rest of the plot is as you would expect to find it. Where Pinborough really shines though is in her treatment of the source material. ‘Poison’ isn’t so much a re-telling of ‘Snow White’ as it is a piece with a lot more depth and feeling than the original tale ever had. And a lot more darkness too; Pinborough clearly knows that there is a strong edge of darkness to the classic fairy tales and uses that here to good effect. I know I keep going on about Aladdin but he is a seriously scary and messed up little boy who I would hate to come across and that is what partly what ‘Poison’ is all about, that darkness in our lives which can lead us down some very strange paths.

‘Poison’ isn’t just about that though, it’s about why the Snow White tale happened the way that it did and Pinborough adds real emotion and depth to the relationship between Lilith and Snow White; a relationship based on misunderstandings and jealousy from both parties as well as Lilith trying to make herself feel secure as Queen by imposing order on Snow White. You can’t help but feel sorry for both women, both of whom have their faults but are stopped from making it work by being totally incompatible. The way it all plays out makes for a compelling yet bittersweet read.

Oh yes and there’s a lot of sex, emphasising the raw humanity of our characters (it’s the only way that they can connect with each other) whilst ensuring that I will never again be able to watch the final scenes of the Disney ‘Snow White’ without keeping a straight face.  And that damn Prince, I really hope he gets his in a book to come…

‘Poison’ has been on the shelves for a little while now and I suspect I must be one of the last people to read it. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t wait as long as I did. Read ‘Poison’ now and find out what ‘Snow White’ was really all about.

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