Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Possession by A. S. Byatt
Published 1990 by Random House
Source: my local library sale
Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire — from spiritualist seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.
Oh you Booker prize winner, you. You tried to defeat me, you really did. And you almost succeeded. This is a great example of where reading a book as part of a group paid off. There were so many times I almost gave up on this one, so many times I thought this book was too smart for me. And, well, it is. To really "get" everything that makes this book a prize winner, you probably need to have studied literature in college. And a good background in poetry would help. But here's the thing - there is a very good chance I will read this book again.
Byatt throws everything she's got at her reader. There is a lot of poetry in Possession, Byatt touches on all things Victorian, and you will need a dictionary. There is a present day literary mystery and a Victorian-era love story. There are diary entries and letters. It's all a little jarring moving back and forth and I constantly felt like I was being yanked out of a story line I was just getting into. I wanted to give up on Possession. I wanted to throw it against the wall. And then...then it all started to come together; where most stories will lag in the middle, Possession starts to really build. Those last 100 pages are a terrific read, tying everything that has come before together. And why, you ask, even given those last 100 pages, would I want to reread a book I was tempted to throw against the wall. Because there is just so much here, so much I wish I would have taken more time to absorb, to research. So Possession will find a place on my permanent bookshelves, a place that very few books find a home.
Tonight the group of us that read this book together will watch the movie adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I eager to see how this very complicated book was interpreted and to have the chance to enjoy it with others who enjoyed this book to varying degrees but who all had very strong opinions about it.