Possession by A.S. Byatt starts in a library and spends half of its time in the Victorian era. It’s a romance after my own heart. The novel opens with...morePossession by A.S. Byatt starts in a library and spends half of its time in the Victorian era. It’s a romance after my own heart. The novel opens with a scholar, Roland Mitchell, finding a rough draft of a letter by the poet Randolph Henry Ash which he has reason to believe hasn’t been seen since Ash put the letter there himself. The letter is to a young lady and in it Ash talks of how she impressed him with her conversational skills at a lunch they both attended and asks if they might meet again. The scholar is driven to find out if Ash ever sent a copy of the letter, and who the young lady he was so taken with is. The lady turns out to be a poet as well, Christabel LaMotte. In order to find out more Mitchell seeks out the aid of one of the leading LaMotte scholars, Maud Bailey. The two follow the trail of letters to try to discover what happened between these two poets a hundred years ago, a path that leads them throughout the British and French countryside.
The novel is alternately a sort of literary detective thriller as the two scholars try to unravel the mysterious affair, a modern romance, a Victorian romance, an epistolary novel (which I adore, the loss of the art of writing physical letters and diaries is one that I lament), and a satire of academia, romantic relationships, the victorian and the modern era. There are a few poems peppered throughout the novel as well. The novel has narrative ADD, but I love it! Despite the fact that the novel is subtitled a romance, I did not find it overly romantic. The novel had a sense of pragmatism that precluded young lovers finding each other then living in a fairy tale without a care in the world (although fairy tales did play an important part in the novel). The sensibility of the novel also prevented anyone from sinking into the depths of despair because love is the only thing worth living for and indulging in a truly Tragic Romance. The novel was a bit slow-paced in the beginning when Mitchell and Bailey are first sniffing out the trail but, at least for me, it more than made up for any slow beginnings by the end. Overall I’d give the novel five stars, with the caveat that my love of libraries, English majors, Victoriana, and letters prevents me from giving a completely objective review. I am not, however, alone in my love of this novel as it did win the Man Booker Prize and if you have a bit of literary geek in you as well I reccomend it.
“The only life I am sure of is the life of the Imagination.”
“But poets don’t want homes—do they?—they are not creatures of hearths and firedogs, but of heaths and ranging hounds.”
“The Poems are not for the young lady, the young lady is for the Poems.”
“The difference between poets and novelists is this—that the former write for the life of the language—and the latter write for the betterment of the world.”
Speaking of reading books before seeing movies, this is something I've been meaning to read for a while because I had several friends in high school w...moreSpeaking of reading books before seeing movies, this is something I've been meaning to read for a while because I had several friends in high school who listed it among their favorites. I'm glad the movie opening finally pushed it to the top of my TBR list. I love the premise of the novel: that our wall-flower lead is writing letters using a disguised identity to someone he barely knows but who he thinks will understand. By addressing the reader directly and carefully avoiding giving any details about the letter recipient, it creates a sense of intimacy and puts readers in the middle of difficult situations that most people would normally distance themselves from. It made me feel complicit in the secrets I was being told and I had to remind myself that this was not a real person whose identity I could puzzle out and try to help. On the other hand, Charlie admits to using fake names and changing details to remain hidden, which makes it all the easier to imagine that he is someone that you've met in passing. Charlie may be fictional but his story is true for many people. Chbosky certainly doesn't shy away from truth, which is why this novel has been banned and challenged so often. Not because it misinforms teens or tells them things they don't already know, but because it tells the uncomfortable truth that adults would rather ignore and uselessly try to shield their children from, even if this novel may be exactly what they need. So in trying to protect their children they may harm them by blocking their access to resources that can help. Ah, the eternal irony of banned books. Perhaps one day society will be more afraid of ignorance than knowledge, until then I'm proud to be a member of a profession that fights for the right to read.