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Possession Paperback – Jul 27 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (July 27 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099800403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099800408
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 20 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By "sea_myth" on April 27 2002
Format: Paperback
I took out Possession twice from the library. I couldn't finish it the first time... it was so DENSE. (A very common reaction, I've since learned, when reading Possession.) But after you get over a particular section involving very long-winded letters between two Victorian poets, the story goes reeling and I ended up in tears near the end... I can still quote from the letter Christabel LaMotte wrote to Ash, a letter that never reached him.
Hell. Who DOESN'T want to have loved somebody that much?
I don't think many critics have mentioned this, but to me, the supporting characters really MAKE the book. I was touched by Byatt's knowing yet sympathetic portrayal of Ellen Ash, who very secretly wished to be a poet but became the lantern bearer for one instead, or of Dr. Beatrice Nest, a mild literary scholar working on "womanly work" when she really wants to sink her teeth into what truly makes her tick, the painter Blanche Glover and her descriptions of light and the depiction of force (the complete text of her suicide note is given at one point)... there's a very, very moving passage around the end of the book where Ellen sifts through the remains of Ash's things and decides what to do with Christabel's letter.
For the aspiring writers out there, there's an important passage on words around the end where Roland suddenly discover's he's a poet and the poems "fall like rain." I know everyone hates the poems but they are really worth reading and thinking about; if you like Emily Dickinson you'll love Christabel's poems. I hope Byatt has the full text of "Ask and Embla" somewhere.
The best thing about Possession is that it understands people who think literature MEANS something beyond being a lovely way to kill time. It understands those quiet but passionate people you see browsing in bookstores, who write reviews on Amazon.com, who, at a used bookstore, find joy in finding an out-of-print-book they've been DYING to read for years. It's a book that understands YOU.
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Format: Paperback
"The book was thick and black and covered with dust." It is not a coincidence that the first two words of this remarkable novel are, "the book." Possession is a book about books, about the study and love of literature and the intricate obsession with the lives of literary figures shared by academics, historians, and the randomly curious public. It tells the story of a quiet literary scholar, Roland Michell, who finds a lost letter from the great Victorian poet, R.H. Ash, to another famous poet of the day, Christabel LaMotte. As he is an Ash scholar, Roland takes the letter to a LaMotte scholar named Maude Bailey, and together they begin a search to uncover the relationship between the two. It is a discovery that will have repercussions in the academic world and in their own lives. If you tend to lose yourself in second-hand bookstores, are ravenously curious about the lives of the authors whose works you read, or simply love a great romantic mystery, you will love this book, which won the Booker prize, England's highest literary award.
A.S. Byatt is herself a formidable scholar of literature who left a teaching career at London College in 1983 to write full-time. One day while in the British Museum Library, she spotted a well-known Coleridge scholar. It occurred to Byatt that much of what she knew about the Romantic poet had been filtered through the mind of that scholar. She mused about the effect that such a single-minded pursuit must have on a person. "I thought," she said, "it's almost like a case of demonic possession, and I wondered - has she eaten up his life or has he eaten up hers?" She had an idea to write a book about two famous authors and two scholars who study their lives.
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Format: Paperback
I must admit, I couldn't get past page 50 of this behemoth Booker Prize winner... and thank God! Because nothing I heard during my book group's subsequent discussion of it led me to believe I would have liked the remaining 500 pages. Byatt constructs a somewhat imaginative romance hidden within the poems of two obscure Victorian writers. All very nicely done I suppose, but it was putting me to sleep... Somewhere in the dreadful poems, faux letters, and overwritten prose, there is probably a decent story, however I saw little evidence of it, or of any characters to care about. I doubt I'll be spending any more of my precious time on earth in Byatt's tedious academic settings.
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Format: Paperback
Possession is not only the incredibly apt title but also the way I feel about this book. While reading it I hesitated to tell my friends about the wonderful new book that had me so enthralled. I felt as though I was with Maud and Roland while they tromped over Europe. I became as possessive about the letters as the fictitious characters themselves. The book became my three day obsession.
I have read every other review about it and I won't lie and say that the prose wasn't stilted at times. It was. The story is certainly easily transparent and I had guessed the ending of the book 175 pages before it happened.
But all of that is superfluous. I have not read a book comparable to this one in regards to pure creativity for quite some time. I admired the ingenuity of Ms. Byatt with every turn of the page. She not only created believable characters, but she created a literary history that spanned nearly two hundred years. From nothing Ms. Byatt created distinctively different poetry in the voice of two, fictitious, Victorian poets. She also created love letters between the two. She created fictitious literary analyses of the fictitious poetry. For that feat alone, I admire her and this book.
And I would read it all over again, twenty times, for the simple post script which, I feel, summed up the book better than anything I could've ever imagined.
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