Mark's Reviews > Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
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's review
Jun 04, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: time-100

Thus far I've pretty much hated every book that prominently featured literary creations of the characters contained within its pages. Possession is in that category, with its frame story being the search of two 1980s scholars of two widely different Victorian-era poets as they uncover a brand new-discovered mystery that there were unknown up until then. So it's full of epigraphs of the works of these two fictional poets (which are, of course, actually the creation of Byatt.) I haven't liked this device in other things (notably, Lolita) and I didn't have any expectation that I would be enjoying a novel about two people doing research on fictional poets. Somehow, I was charmed by this one even so.

What I think makes it bearable, and even enjoyable, is that the parallel journey turns into something of a mystery novel, as the characters race to get to the bottom of everything - complete with potential villains (an unscrupulous American collector of literature, most notably.) It's spoken in the language of the scholars who are carrying it out, but they aren't stuffy people. They are interesting because they quickly realize they are on the find of their lives, the one thing to shake them out of the dull and monotonous existences they've forged for themselves. And the prose and the fake poems both are delightfully evocative of old, remote places that you can almost picture from the way they are described. For the characters involved, it was a journey worth going on, and for me it was a journey unexpectedly worth following.

So another bravo to the Time 100 for challenging me with a book I would not have ever sought out otherwise.

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