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Possession

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  65,932 ratings  ·  4,036 reviews
Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany— ...more
Paperback, 555 pages
Published October 1st 1991 by Vintage (first published October 17th 1990)
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Marti I think we always underestimate and have such low expectations for teens. These said teens would be the people watching some pretty torrid movies, and…moreI think we always underestimate and have such low expectations for teens. These said teens would be the people watching some pretty torrid movies, and who live in the world where gender is now subdivided into so many categories I have to keep looking them up. What's wrong with reading something which expects .... and can teach..... emotional maturity? I learned a lot about appropriate and inappropriate emotional responses from reading fiction as a preteen and teen. Don't be afraid of what these young gals will come up with. I say, go for it. (less)
Joseph I studied this book in A-Level English (17/18 years old) and ten years later, I still can't get through it - especially without being obligated to do…moreI studied this book in A-Level English (17/18 years old) and ten years later, I still can't get through it - especially without being obligated to do so by a teacher. It's pretentious to a fault, so save yourself the hassle, honestly.(less)

Community Reviews

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3.89  · 
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 ·  65,932 ratings  ·  4,036 reviews


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Kelly
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people searching for beauty, academics
That was.. not what I was expecting this time.

I have to admit, I did not approach this book this time around with what I would consider pure motives. I wasn’t in it to find things I had never found before, to revisit a personal classic to explore ideas that I had left behind for the time when I was ready to connect with them in the way that they deserved. I wasn’t even in it to re-approach situations and characters with a new perspective of age and experience.

No, I needed something from this boo
...more
Paul Bryant
Oct 12, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: my enemies
Shelves: novels

A honking great piece of literary self gratification, a novel about writers (all novels about writers should be given a concrete overcoat), a grand excuse for A S Byatt to dazzle us with some fancy ventriloquism, and yes you can feel the throb of the author's perfervid intelligence like a lawnmower hacking away at the tough grass at the edge of the lawn but after all of that you have to come clean and say that Possession isn't worth the thinnest novelette written by Raymond Chandler or the most
...more
Warwick
OK I have to say something. People keep writing reviews of this book and talking about how it was great except for all the boring poems which they skipped through.

READ THE POETRY, PEOPLE! What's the matter with everyone?? They're actually rather good, they are full of plot clues, and, duh, they're a key part of the novel you're reading. I mean what is going on here? Do people really hate poetry so much that they're skipping a few pages of it in the middle of a story? If you try that shit with Ha
...more
Lisa
"Literary critics make natural detectives."

I loved this novel. I know there are plenty of arguments against it, but to me, it summed up my life in the grey zone between reality lived and consumed in fiction. Whoever was caught by the passion of reading - a love story that is inexhausible, lifelong, passionate, and thus unlike most love stories between people - will recognise the thoughts that accompany the lovers on the tracks of fiction past. Whoever considers their library their most important
...more
Marjorie Hakala
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A while ago I said to myself, "I'm going to pay more attention to doing things that make me happy. So I'm going to cook more creatively and read more fantasy, because I keep forgetting I like those things."

Then I started reading Possession. The happiness project got put on the back burner until I was ready to emerge from the Victorian melancholia, which placed demands on my time too great to allow for preparing meals. I never cried at this book, exactly, but I frequently wept the way a lemon mer
...more
Dolors
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Possessors, possessed and skeptics
Stolen snapshots that defy the laws of space and time:

Past.
A poet observes a mystical creature, half woman half mermaid, scouting cliffs and creeks, bathing in unruly seas and still ponds, getting drenched in the cascade of his flowing words. The ache of losing God is not so acute when intellect is met with incandescent creativity. Or with unrestrained love. His gentle curiosity breathes life into inert things, making them shine with an inner glow of their own, because he doesn’t aspire to posse
...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Aug 03, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Grad students &/or those seeking confirmation that academia is a poor career choice
Too much work for too little reward.

I read somewhere that if you pick up a book, and you're not enjoying it by either: a) your age (if you are under 50); or b) 100 minus your age (if you are over 50), you should abandon it and move on. There is too much to read and life is too short to be spent reading bad books.

I think this applies particularly to books in that grey zone, where you can tell the writer is winding up to something, and the style and story has enough ooomph in it to keep you poweri
...more
Duane
Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1990.

Giving this book 5 stars was not ever in doubt for me. This is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. I'm a romantic, I admit. I love art and art history. I love good historical fiction. But all that combined still does not make a good book. A.S. Byatt pulls all this together with the most important aspect of any book, great writing. But she adds something else also, something that's hard to put your finger on, a uniqueness, an edge, if you will,
...more
Cecily
Like many biographies... this was as much about its author as its subject.

AS Byatt has characters describing biography as “a form of religion… a form of ancestor worship”. She is a novelist who loves the academic approach to biography, applied to fiction and semi-fiction, creating po-mo metafiction that is rich in texture and research, but which can be a little hard for mortals to digest.

There are two main timelines here: a pair of Victorian poets (Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, l
...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
I just finished reading A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession, again for about the fourth time. It has been several years since I last read it, and I have to say that I saw it in a completely new light. It is a literary masterpiece that is exquisitely plotted and written.

This time around I very carefully studied the epigraphs leading off most of the chapters and all of the beautiful poetry included in the text. I don’t know that I gave much more than a cursory glance to the poetry during previous read
...more
Sarah Mac
"With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! Want to see my book report?" -Calvin & Hobbes (Bill Watterson)


Indeed, Calvin. You speak the truth. And thanks to slogging through a sample portion of that intimidating & impenetrable fog known as Possession, I've learned an important lesson. Lend me your ears, gentle reader -- I'm about to whisper another truth that's been missing from your day-to-day literary drudgery.

A.S. Byatt is smart.



Oh, yes. A.S. Byatt i
...more
Adina
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it

This was mainly my fault. What went through my mind when I decided to read a book about a love story between two poets when I do not like poetry? Didn’t it cross my mind that there was going to be poetry in this novel? The answer is, not really. I read in the synopsis that there were going to be letters and a literary investigation. It sounded intriguing and it was a Booker winner, among which I found a few gems.

After skipping quite a bit I have the following observations:
1. WARNING! Do not at
...more
Maxwell
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own-it, man-booker, 2017
I did it! I conquered the beast. That's a tad dramatic, but this book wasn't always the most fun to read even though I do appreciate everything Byatt accomplished. Creating this story about fictional Victorian poets, including their writings, letters, diaries, etc. is extremely impressive. But I did find it slow at times and she tends to digress a lot into descriptions that add very little to the story. I assume her own writing style was trying to mimic the poets' own writing styles, but I thoug ...more
Fabian
Aug 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Basically, "Possession" is a (n outstanding, albeit very old-fashioned) poet's "showcase." I firmly believe that poetry books are not worthy of sharing the same shelf space as works of fiction-- this is a merger of two arts, surely. The plot and the prose is only a pretext for getting all these snippets of poetry in a book! Byatt's possession of her characters is the novelty here: she has done something pretty outstanding, mainly giving both fictional historical poets true, clear voices. The poe ...more
Michael
A fun ride that wavers between the competitive/collaborative work of two literary contemporary scholars in England and their subjects, fictive Victorian poets who had a secret love affair. The latter slowly comes out through letters, close reading of poems, and other clues pieced together by creative sleuthing. I liked how the story contrasts the cultures of the two eras and its accounting for why literary scholars often become obsessed with the personal lives of their favorite writers in order ...more
Simona Bartolotta
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1900, in-english
4.5

“Tell your aunt,” he said, “that you met a poet.”


This is not a proper review. This is just a list of the thoughts that at one point or another, during or after the reading of the book, struck me and got stuck in my head, of the peculiarities of this book that enchanted me, and of a couple things more. This list is not supposed to make sense to anyone but me, but I hope you will still be able to draw from it inspiration or motivation to rush to the nearest bookshop or library and get a copy of
...more
Christine
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Re-read 2018 - Focused more on Beatrice Nest in this re-read. I love this book so much, everyone is treated so well by Byatt.


For me, Possession is like a bottle of wine or a box of really good chocolate (the really, expensive and sinfully good kind). There is an aboluste beauty in this book, and it seems to lie in the details. How all the characters still in character, the resolution to both romances at the end, all the touches about criticism - all these ring true.

Over the years I have read thi
...more
Perry
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Poets Possessed by Passion Puissante pour les Mots et la Romance

"[A]ll great poetry asks us to be possessed by it ." Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language, 2003.

“I am two fools, I know,
For loving, and for saying so.” John Donne


_____________________________

My initial reaction here is 5 stars for pulling off a complicated structure surrounding romantic stories of 2 pairs of poets. Prior to the last 10 or so pages, I might have said 4 stars. The last 5 pages, in particular, are apt
...more
Roman Clodia
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A marvellously layered book and a masterclass in ventriloquism: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so full of alternative voices, all pulled off so perfectly – from a contemporary 3rd person narrative, to the poetry of two quite different authors, to letters written by three individuals (four if you include a suicide note), and journals penned by two separate women; even a pastiche of academic feminist criticism from the 80s which is hilarious. Through it all emerge two love stories, triangulat ...more
Alison
Sep 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: literature nerds, romantics, people who have some spare time
Shelves: alltime100novel
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 co
...more
Manny
Nov 26, 2008 rated it really liked it

Brilliant literary puzzle-book, including a well-realised fictitious author loosely based on Tennyson... one of the best attempts of this kind since Pale Fire. Some people think the book is too clever by half, but what do you expect? Just as constructive to criticise Powell for including too many characters who are upper-class twits, or Proust for not making his sentences short and punchy...
Sara
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am a Romantic, in Wordsworth's sense of the word. I love the details of 19th Century life, the language of that time, poetry, a mystery and human tragedy and struggle. Above all, I love a good story. A.S. Byatt has given me all of this and more. She is an intelligent and multi-talented author, and I was delighted to accompany her through the throes of Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte's love story to the last riveting moment.

I have pushed this book to the back of the shelf for years, simply
...more
Cindy Newton
There have been so many reviews written about this book, by so many people much more articulate than I am, that I really don't feel I have anything new and/or brilliant to add. I will, therefore, just record my thoughts about it.

I thought it was lovely. The language flows beautifully, both in the prose and the poetry sections. The story itself is intriguing, the flowering illicit romance between the poet and his poetess, and the more muted one between the scholars obsessed by them. Byatt does a
...more
Roya
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Roya by: Jaidee
Shelves: quite-good
It took me three attempts to get this one right. Something about the premise drew me in from the get go. I was destined to love this book. No way around it. I was in for an unpleasant surprise. It didn't take long before I found myself bored to tears. The language was so outmoded. Everything about it was plain difficult. I put it aside for a couple months in the hopes that it would get easier. It was still the same. I was still the same.

A couple years passed. It was always in the back of my mind
...more
Kim
Oct 16, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: disheartening
I picked up this book because I had seen it in a recommended reading site and then a friend said that it was really good. But...
Yes, there's a but... it took me 3 tries to get past page 10. I should have known then... but (again with the 'but') I persevered... thinking that I would eventually get into it, that I would get to the meat of it. By, page 300 I felt like I was trapped. I had already invested this much time into it and felt, at that point, that I had to finish it. I'm not saying tha
...more
Mona
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Artfully Told Tale of Academics, Victorian Poets and Romance



I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.

Many Goodreaders really like this metafictional novel, which contains a story (and poetry) within a story.

There is much to admire here.

The author skillfully interweaves two time periods. One was 1987 (close to the time the novel was written), the other nineteenth century Victorian England.

She not only invents two poets, but writes a lot of their poetry. The skill and brilliance involv
...more
Mosca
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mosca by: Kris Rabberman and Aubrey
----------------------------------------

It is a special treat to discover a book that ends so intelligently, so intuitively, and so emotionally beautifully---all at the same time.

This book is sophisticated in its construction and its literary detail. It requires a good deal of attention and focus on the part of the reader during its first half. And the details of its parts, the virtuosity of its styles, and the puzzles that it is assembles kept me fascinated. The writing is so good. And as the s
...more
T.D. Whittle
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book when it was published back in 1990. I loved it then, but this second reading meant more to me. It's an extraordinary accomplishment, Possession. Byatt seems to know something about everything, and she is able to weave together so many delicate threads of character and story that it boggles my mind. I cannot read her without looking up quotes and references every few pages, and I struggle to remember how I went the first time round, in the pre-Google days!

There are passage
...more
Riku Sayuj
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-winners

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
And did he stop and speak to you?
And did you speak to him again?
How strange it seems, and new!

But you were living before that,
And you are living after,
And the memory I started at—
My starting moves your laughter!

I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
And a certain use in the world no doubt,
Yet a hand’s-breadth of it shines alone
’Mid the blank miles round about:

For there I picked up on the heather
And there I put inside my breast
A moulted feat
...more
Deea
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: man-booker-prize
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
...........................................................

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”


La Belle Dame sans Merci - Keats

Christabel LaMotte is
...more
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Literary Award Wi...: Possession - Through the End 3 26 Jun 11, 2019 09:35AM  
"Possession" by A.S. Byatt 1 10 Feb 01, 2019 08:32AM  
101 Books to Read...: Possession 6 24 Aug 26, 2018 07:25PM  
ManBookering: November Group Read (2017) - Possession by A.S. Byatt 76 142 Dec 08, 2017 03:47PM  
The Mookse and th...: 1990 Winner: Possession 4 36 May 23, 2017 02:30AM  

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A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize winner Possession, The Biographer’s Tale and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Ey ...more
“I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.” 214 likes
“They took to silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm. An ankle overlapping an ankle, as they sat on a beach, and not removed. One night they fell asleep, side by side... He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.” 148 likes
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