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Possession Paperback – October 1, 1991
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"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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You’ll enjoy “Possession” if you
• Like reading about the Victorians
• Enjoy poetry (but see below)
• Enjoy satire about academic life
• Appreciate meticulous, well-rendered detail
• Don’t mind an intricate story that moves between past and present, with stops for (fictional) journal entries and poems
You won’t enjoy “Possession” if you
• Dislike poetry of any sort
• Aren’t much interested in academic wrangles over dusty journals and old letters tied with ribbons
• Have no interest in Victorian sexual mores, religious searching, and self-abnegation
• Want a story that moves sequentially, in straightforward fashion
The novel’s main characters, the 19th century lovers and poets R. H. Ash and Christabel Lamotte, are fictional, as is their “poetry,” all of it invented by A.S. Byatt. The latter is a tour de force---pages and pages of poems, some in the manner of Browning (Ash) and some more like Dickinson (LaMotte). You can slide over this if it’s not to your taste, since the clues to the novel’s mystery can be found in the prose, as well. However, reading even part of it will carry you back into this century.
The poets, in a wonderful kind of mirroring, have their 20th century counterparts in two academics, both specialists in the period: Roland Michell and Maud Bailey. The tenderness they begin to feel for one another is almost secondary to the tenderness they feel for Ash and Lamotte and for the words of these poets, which are their legacy. Despite all of the chasing down of literary clues, hidden letters, cryptic journal references, and evocative heirlooms in the novel, “Possession” makes clear that the real possession (and passion) lies in the act of reading.
I love this book for its rich use of language, polished writing syle, and the fascinating contrast of Victorian and current lifestyles and romantic/sexual entanglements. If you choose it for a book group, I would suggest more than one scheduled session for discussion and an extended time to read it.
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