Book Review: POSSESSION, by A.S. Byatt

Somebody asked me once if I'd read this book, and when I said no, they said it seemed like something I would read. I cannot for the life of me remember who said this. If it was you, please put my mind at ease and tell me.

I'm a complete sucker for recommendations, at any rate, so at the recommendation of this Mystery Person, I bought POSSESSION and I read it. And I enjoyed it, very much.

It's no wonder that Byatt won a Booker Prize for POSSESSION: part suspense, part romance (not that kind of romance), and two or three parts literature, Byatt's novel follows young Roland Michel, a scholar on the fictional late nineteenth century poet, Randolph Henry Ash, as he accidentally discovers two as yet unseen letters of Ash's in a library book. The letters set Michel on the trail of the unknown woman to whom Ash was writing and, with the help of another scholar, Maud Bailey, he uncovers a story that blah blah blah.

I'm sorry. My summary is so terribly insufficient.

When written up like that, POSSESSION sounds like nothing more than a stock thriller plot, with a little history and poetry mixed in. Forgive me. It is so much more.

Byatt's writing is incredible--whether you like them or not, her sentences are impressive, long and lovely, the words and images she chooses wildly beautiful--and her sense of structure is magnificent. This is the sort of book that begs to be examined in college literature classes--I couldn't help but notice certain themes running through the story (the word "possession", in every possible sense, being one of them), and the way Byatt wove in bits of poetry by her fictional poets, or entire journals written by various characters, and yet kept the voices of each character, whether writing or speaking, perfectly clear, added many, many more layers to a story that was already rich and glowing.

I liked it. I really did. For you Victorian literature buffs, this is a great mix of contemporary and classic literature, complete with epic poems and scenes set in Victorian England. Postively lovely.


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