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Possession [Paperback]

A.S. Byatt
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 27 1992
Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "a gifted observer, able to discern the exact details that bring whole worlds into being" and "a storyteller who could keep a sultan on the edge of his throne for a thousand and one nights," A. S. Byatt writes some of the most engaging and skillful novels of our time. Time magazine calls her "a novelist of dazzling inventiveness."
        
Possession, for which Byatt won England's prestigious Booker Prize, was praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic when it was first published in 1990. "On academic rivalry and obsession, Byatt is delicious. On the nature of possession--the lover by the beloved, the biographer by his subject--she is profound," said The Sunday Times (London). The New Yorker dubbed it "more fun to read than The Name of the Rose . . . Its prankish verve [and] monstrous richness of detail [make for] a one-woman variety show of literary styles and types." The novel traces a pair of young academics--Roland Michell and Maud Bailey--as they uncover a clandestine love affair between two long-dead Victorian poets. Interwoven in a mesmerizing pastiche are love letters and fairytales, extracts from biographies and scholarly accounts, creating a sensuous and utterly delightful novel of ideas and passions.

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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The English author of Still Life fuses an ambitious and wholly satisfying work, a nearly perfect novel. Two contemporary scholars, each immersed in the study of one of two Victorian poets, discover evidence of a previously unimagined relationship between their subjects: R. H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte had secretly conducted an extramarital romance. The scholars, "possessed" by their dramatic finds, cannot bring themselves to share their materials with the academic community; instead, they covertly explore clues in the poets' writings in order to reconstruct the affair and its enigmatic aftermath. Byatt persuasively interpolates the lovers' correspondence and "their" poems; the journal entries and letters of other interested parties; and modern-day scholarly analysis of the period. One of the poets is posthumously dubbed "the great ventriloquist"; because of Byatt's success in projecting diverse and distinct voices, it is tempting to apply the label to her as well. Merely to do so, however, would ignore even greater skills: her superb and perpetually surprising plotting; her fluid transposition of literary motifs to an infinite number of keys; her amusing and mercifully indirect criticism of current literary theories; and her subtle questioning of the ways readers and writers shape, and are shaped by, literature.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
A S Byatt's Booker Prize winning novel, "Possession", isn't just the literary sourcebook for the current movie of the same name. It is SERIOUS LITERATURE for SERIOUS READERS, so Movie Tie-In fans expecting a compactly written synopsis of the film are well advised to stay away. But if you're a literature aficionado, and wading knee deep in long flowery poems, obscure verses, beautifully but wordily written letters and journal entries isn't a problem or better still, your cup of tea, there's much in "Possession" that will delight and enthrall you.
Subtitled "A Romance", "Possession" is more than the coupling of an ancient with a contemporary love story, though the movie adaptation may have you believe that. Victorian poet Randolph Ash didn't just have a dirty weekend with fairy poetess Christabel LaMotte. Their secret liason did however result in an awkward outcome that should not surprise readers. In Byatt's hands, their love affair is cloaked in mystery and cerebral splendour and though it may be hard to fathom the foundation of their mutual attraction, its credibility doesn't suffer because the affair isn't played out in real time but reconstructed and deduced from fragments of evidence from the past. It's like examining a black and white print through frosted glass. As for the coupling of modern day academics Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell, those who have read the novel but not seen the film may be surprised that their relationship has been characterised as a romance. That to me is surely the crudest way of depicting Maud's and Roland's journey of self discovery as they collaborate in their research into the murky past of Ash & LaMotte and then join up in their undertaking to secure ownership of the invaluable evidence they have uncovered.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A heavy but worthy read... April 10 2002
Format:Paperback
Possession is probably the most difficult but unique book I have ever read. A.S. Byatt is obviously very talented and much deserving of the Booker Prize. Possession is truly a tour-de-force of many facets, although the writing style and complexity of the story may be a bit much for some.
Roland Michell, an academic and researcher of the 19th century poet, Randolph Henry Ash, has stumbled across something that could change the very foundation of his research: two drafts of a letter that Ash sent to a mysterious woman, who later is found to be another poet, Christabel LaMotte. Roland enlists the help of the LaMotte scholar, Maud Bailey, to fit the puzzle pieces together. The fact that Ash is married and LaMotte a supposed lesbian and feminist makes this journey of discovery one that will change the face of history as they've known it. And as their research takes them further along, the mystery and suspense builds, letter by letter, until the fascinating climax at the novel's end.
This book, regardless of its stunning display of talent, will not be for everyone. It took me on a roller coaster ride throughout with its high and low points as my interest in the story waxed and waned. Interspersed with poetry, diary entries, letters, and passages from books makes Possession a very unique and creative novel; however, these things which make it unique also has the capacity to tear it down -- some of the poetry could have been left out, and the letters, albeit important to the story, were at times laborous.
Possession is a literature buff's dream novel. Reader's who enjoy 19th century British literature and can actually understand poetry of that century will get more out of this novel than I did. Throughout my reading, my rating hovered between 3 and 4 stars, but decided to round up simply for the fact that Possession is truly a novel of dynamic proportions. It'll just take me a second read-around to understand it better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It Proves that Critics Should Stay Critics April 1 2002
Format:Paperback
After a failed attempt to read Possession ten years ago, I finally managed to trudge through it for the sake of my monthly book club. Apparently, not much has changed for me in ten years because I hated the book then, and I hate the book now. I say "hate" because I cannot stand to see a potentially great storyline overwhelmed by useless (and completely boring) details.
The poetry is horrible. The characters are flat. The diaries are completely unnecessary, with exception of a few sentences here and there of importance. Everyone I talk to claims to have skimmed or skipped over the superfluous parts of the book. I'm sorry, but anything I have to skim or skip for the sake of finding the plot or characterizations isn't a novel, it's homework. (And rather than finding that "challenging," I just find it annoying...a challenging read does not have to be tedious.)
I think what bothers me the most is that A.S. Byatt believed she had the creative talent to pull this off. I was thoroughly unconvinced that the poetry in the book was created by "great" poets worthy of the adoration and examination given by the modern-day characters in the book. Perhaps that is part of the satire, but if it is, it is not compelling enough to keep me interested.
The book has no flow to it and actually reads like a critic wrote it. It is dry and egotistical. I felt like I was back in undergraduate English classes being forced to read the arrogant interpretations of great literature by critics--only in this case, the great literature is missing.
Similar to religious zealots who believe there is only one way to interpret the bible, critics believe that they are somehow able to crawl into the minds of great writers so they have the definitive understanding of their works.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
POSSESSION has been on my shelf since 1991. I read it because it won the 1990 Booker Prize, and once under its spell, I've never wanted to let it go. A.S. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2007 by Linda Bulger
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten passion
"Possession" is far above and beyond the kind of books usually labelled "romance." It's lushly written, with exquisite characters, great poetry and interweavings of legend and... Read more
Published on June 12 2007 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten passion
"Possession" is far above and beyond the kind of books usually labelled "romance." It's lushly written, with exquisite characters, great poetry and interweavings of legend and... Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2003 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars only Byatt could make research sexy!
A.S. Byatt is a master and this is her master work. She is not only a brilliant storyteller and a crafter of beautiful prose but she is also a professional scholar, so she knows... Read more
Published on June 16 2003 by SusanDC
5.0 out of 5 stars AN UNDERSTANDING, EMPATHETIC READING
Virginia Leishman imbues her reading of this Booker Prize-winning novel with understanding and dramatic emphasis as she performs Byatt's fascinating multi level tale of literary... Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2002 by Gail Cooke
1.0 out of 5 stars What taught me that pretty covers do not pretty books make
Everyone has undoubtedly heard the maxim "Never judge a book by it's cover." It holds just as true when taken literally. Read more
Published on June 10 2002 by M. Hester
4.0 out of 5 stars Complicated but a good read
To be honest, I read Possession because my English teacher persuaded me to. I started out quite skeptical but as the book went on I became really engrosed in it. Read more
Published on May 31 2002 by "alisonbramby"
4.0 out of 5 stars A rich, textured, poetic tapestry - though somewhat tedious
A.S. Byatt has pulled off a stunning achievement with her Booker Prize-winning novel - excuse me, ROMANCE - entitled Possession. Read more
Published on May 16 2002 by Matthew Krichman
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
Possession is a great love story and is beautifully written. One of the best novels I've ever read.
Published on May 14 2002 by C. Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reader's Novel
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. Read more
Published on April 27 2002 by "sea_myth"
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