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Possession Paperback – October 1, 1991

4.0 out of 5 stars 370 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.

Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize--the U.K.'s highest literary award--Possession is a gripping and compulsively readable novel. A.S. Byatt exquisitely renders a setting rich in detail and texture. Her lush imagery weaves together the dual worlds that appear throughout the novel--the worlds of the mind and the senses, of male and female, of darkness and light, of truth and imagination--into an enchanted and unforgettable tale of love and intrigue. --Lisa Whipple

From Publishers Weekly

Two contemporary scholars, each studying one of two Victorian poets, reconstruct their subjects' secret extramarital affair through poems, journal entries, letters and modern scholarly analysis of the period. PW called this Booker Prize winner "an ambitious and wholly satisfying work, a nearly perfect novel."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679735909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679735908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (370 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It's pretty hard not to be impressed with this thing, with its amazing scholarship and spectacular writing. In fact, I don't know that I've ever come across a novel like it, with its poems and its letters and its diaries and its fairy-tale stories. This is literature with a capital "L," so much so that you almost feel you have to genuflect before it every time you pick it up.

The story has to do with a contemporary English "Ash" scholar, who discovers while poking around in the dusty old library what appear to be drafts of heretofore undiscovered love letters, written in the hand of Ash. Randolph Ash, by the way, is a fictionalized major English Victorian poet--probably on a par with Browning or Tennyson--and wasn't known to have had a relationship with any other woman than his wife. After a little detective work, our scholar discovers the identity of Ash's love interest, who it turns out was also a poet--fictionalized Christabel LaMotte. With the help of a female LaMotte scholar, the two then begin an odyssey of literary discovery, uncovering truths in the lives of these literary giants to whom they have spent their young lives studying. To add interest to this already interesting plot is some suspense, in that other, less-altruistic scholars appear to be on their heels, and also there is the smoldering love interest between these two.

It is an excellent story but what is truly remarkable about this novel is that Ms. Byatt has also added large chunks of these poets' literary works. There are numerous lengthy poems by both Ash and LaMotte. There are some of LaMotte's stories. There are the letters themselves, written in Victorian prose, and comprising about forty pages worth of text. There is part of the diary written by Ash's wife.
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Format: Paperback
Possession, labeled a romance, is certainly that. But it is also much, much more. The book is a tremendous undertaking of style and verve, a romance on two levels, and a bizarre detective story all rolled into one.
The main characters of Possesion are Roland Michell, a true academic and Maud Bailey, a researcher, but the stars of the book are really the long-dead R.H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte.
In Possession, Byatt gives much attention to minor detail. In fact, her detailing is so subtle that many nuances may be missed on a first reading.
Byatt's writing is beautiful and filled with simple, descriptive language and gorgeous imagery. The majority of the story is rich in both metaphor and allusion, with the following passage being a prime example: "One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud's bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase."
Most of the chapters in Possession begin with a fictitious work by Ash or LaMotte, but Byatt has not only written them well, she has fashioned each so that it is in keeping with the character of its fictitious author.
Ash and LaMotte are both of the Romantic period, yet Ash is more open and free than is LaMotte, who writes with obvious rhyme and rhythm. It is this--Byatt's ability to create so many different writing styles for each of her characters and fit them to the character so perfectly, that makes Possession come to life for the reader.
Possession is not a straightforward narrative, however. Much of the story is told through the letters of Ash and LaMotte, again, beautifully crafted by Byatt. It is through their letters that we really get to know Ash and LaMotte as well as Roland and Maud.
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Format: Paperback
Having read a collection of short stories by A.S. Byatt, I was already a fan. However, it was for the work of director Neil Labute that I went to see the movie, "Possession", and only then did I realize it was based on what is purported to be Byatt's most important work. I wondered what could make LaBute leave his sardonic field of original screenwriting and adapt this book to a screenplay...and I must say, with some sadness, that his film was only adequate. However, as he must have, I found the plot was truly unique and the concept of possession so interwoven in each character, amazing. And then, the relationship between the two 19th century poets was so moving, I decided to tackle the novel.
It is exquisite.
First, Byatt, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, discards the concept of a "novel" and subtitles it, "A Romance". Whether she realized it or not, this would result in many "romance novel" readers trying to tackle her 1990 masterpiece, only to discard it as "too long and boring". But Byatt persisted in the classification of a "romance" after taking the meaning of the prose of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote:
"When a writer calls his work a Romance....while as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart -- has fairly a right to present that under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing."
Here, Byatt boldly invents two 19th century writers. Stunningly, she juxtaposes their existence with real writers of the period...Lord Tennyson, Goethe, Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, Crabb Robinson, etc.
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