Thursday, March 26, 2009

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt -- A Book Review

Well, Possession is not necessarily an easy read nor is it a typical love story...It is, however, a beautifully well-written, wonderful novel that I would definitely read again.

The story begins in the Reading Room of the London Library where the main character, Roland Mitchell, as a postdoctoral research assistant at London University, is conducting research on a famous Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. Inside the thick, black book covered with dust, Roland finds two letters written by Randolph Henry Ash that are affectionate and imply an interest in another woman that is clearly not the poet's wife. Roland "steals" the letters and begins his obsession with solving the mystery of who the woman was and what was the nature of their relationship.

Very early in the story, Roland finds that the woman to whom the letters were written was another Victorian poet, Christabel LaMott. Following the Christabel clue, Roland is led to the work of contemporary researcher Maud Bailey and together the two of them spend most of the novel, tracking down clues and uncovering the hidden history between the two poets.

The author, A.S.Byatt, has created a mystery within history; not to mention, has written poems and diary entries that are true to Victorian minds and times. It's a heck of a good read -- and nothing is quite predictable. There are twists and turns to the story but they're not expected -- and this includes the romance (or lack thereof) of Maud and Roland.

I loved it. Some of my non-literature friends, may find the poetry laborious-- but I loved that I was on the hunt to uncover the Secret right along with the protagonists -- and that there were "secrets" within the poems that had yet to be discovered.

This book really makes you think about how the absence of information in history, leads us to draw conclusions based only on the history that is available -- and this "truth" can sometimes be far from what the real truth was at the time.

Maud and Roland are led to re-trace the paths of the two Victorian poets and find themselves in Whitby, England. Oh, did I get distracted here with the descriptions of the Jet brooches and buttons that were manufactured and hand-carved in this area during the Victorian period. It turns out that Whitby was located on a huge supply of Jet which was mined and used to carve into wonderful jewelry and accessories. Jet is often mistaken for glass but Jet is much lighter and will leave a brown smudge when drawn across a piece of unglazed porcelain.

My absolute favorite part of the book was the Postscript -- where the reader is given information that was never discovered by the characters in the book. It's a delightfully written, sunny and positive ending to a heck of a novel.

If you read it, or have read it, I'd love to know what you thought.

And, that my friends, completes my 1% Well-Read Challenge for 2008-2009. I can't wait to show you my list for this year. Maybe, you'll join us.

Next up for me is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I was a teenager the last time I met up with the Old Man -- I'm thinking he probably has something new to teach me now that I'm 44.


Lisa said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book as it is one of my favorites! Not an easy read as you mentioned, but I love the words, the language of it, the poetry, and the depth of it! For me it is a novel to savor and linger over and I've now re-read it several times and each time, it offers up something new.

jenclair said...

One of my favorites, too! I read it when it was first published and really should read it again.

Allison Ann Aller said...

I loved it as well.
Ms. Paltrow was unfortunately miscast in the movie, IMHO....but the book had me enthralled, start to finish.
Nice review, as always!

JoWynn Johns said...

I've loved all A. S Byatt's fiction, and some of her scholarly work, too. But even more, I love the novels by her sister, Margaret Drabble. I've read every one, as they've been published. She's about my age, and each book has been about women at the age we were when she was writing. Her latest is about 60-year-olds, The Sea Lady. Think Drabble for your next year's reading list.

flyingbeader said...

Thank you for mentioning this Byatt book. I haven't read this one, but will have to pick it up. Yes, her books are not easy reads, but they always have such a delightful play with words & her prose is so much like poetry. I've got to get this one. Love you idea of a reading list. I use to read so much, but in the last year have put off reading for beading. Right now I'm reading "In the Wild". I saw the movie & it touched me so much, that I had to find this book.


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