Alison's Reviews > Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
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Jan 03, 08

bookshelves: alltime100novel
Recommended for: literature nerds, romantics, people who have some spare time
Read in August, 2007

O.K., I finally finished Possession! Here goes.

Possession is a highly celebrated novel by A.S. Byatt that contains two story threads. The first story could be categorized as historical fiction. We learn about the relationship of fictional poets Christabel LaMotte and R.H. Ashe through old journal entries, letters, and their "poetry" (the poems were actually created by Byatt, since the two authors never actually existed). Ashe was married, and LaMotte was in a relationship with a woman. But we come to find out that the two poets had a romantic affair.

The second part of the story is a contemporary romance slash literary detective novel (think high-brow chic lit meets The Da Vinci Code). Maud & Roland are literary scholars. Maud's life's work has been dedicated to the study of her ancestor, LaMotte, and Roland, naturally, is an Ashe expert. Roland accidentally stumbles upon a letter from Ashe to LaMotte, and this sets off Maud & Roland's journey to the unraveling of the romance between the two historical poets. And, of course, a romance of their own (Yea!)

This book is a masterpiece at 555 densely worded pages. The title and the theme of Possession run throughout the book. What can we truly know about the past? Because we read letters and journals and are able to piece together what people's daily lives may have been like, are we able to actually possess their souls, read their minds and know their secrets? What do historical biographies really tell us about people? How well can you really know someone? Won't there always be a disconnect between reality & our perception of the past when it's tainted with our personal assumptions, emotions, and biases?

Maud was unclear on her emotions regarding being in a relationship. How much does our partner aim to possess us? Are we able to be a part of a relationship, yet remain free? In marriage, are there parts of our partner's souls that we'll never possess unless they choose to reveal them to us? Does being in a relationship mean that you own the other person? Is that person still a person, independent of the relationship?

The two poets dabbled in the spirit world--at one time attending a mutual seance. Are the spirits of the ones who've gone on before us capable of possessing the ones who remain behind? What of demons? Can they own us and alter our destinies when our worst nightmares have come true for us?

Also, literally and lawfully speaking, these letters and journals...who has the right to read private thoughts? What if the owners took pains to make sure things were kept hidden? Do we have the right to know? Because we stumble upon things, or they are left to us via a legacy, do we own them because we possess them? Is it our lawful right to know things that were intended to be hidden, or buried away? Does celebrity negate the right for privacy?

All of these themes make up "Possession", and so much much more. This book is for literary junkies. It's for soulful, passionate people, and people who appreciate brilliant poetry and prose.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth did you see the movie with gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron eckhart? Not bad at all. I tried to read one of Byatt's books, can't remember which one, couldn't get interested. I am typing this on my phone, by the way, so excuse the punctuation.


Alison I'm flattered that I would be worthy of phone-typing. Haha. I saw this movie before reading this. I will have to see it again. It will not hurt me to see two hours of A. Eckhart again. This book was HEAVY--it was a chore to finish it. But I really did like it.




Devin Lind I just started reading Possession, and your review really makes me want to finish it. So many people seemed to not like it - but your writing reminds me of what made me borrow the book to begin with. Thank you! :)


Alison Hope you finish and enjoy, Devin!


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