Possession Paperback – Jul 27 1992
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Victorian literature can seem like a dry and rocky road, but Byatt foreshadows and advances her story with the poetry, letters and journals of the Victorian pair, whose love affair is revealed as the research progresses. From simple lyric poems ("They say that women change: 'tis so: but you / Are ever-constant in your changefulness ...") to complex narrative poems and stories, they are well integrated with the story, though sometimes lengthy. The Victorian scene comes to life most successfully, and it's astonishing how fluently Byatt moves not just from present to past, but among the many different literary forms of the two Victorians.
The story within a story, or more specifically the unraveling of a mystery from the past, is a popular device. It's been used in Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins, THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco; and more recently, THE DANTE CLUB and THE POE SHADOW by Matthew Pearl, THE RULE OF FOUR by Caldwell and Thomason, even Dan Brown's blockbuster THE DA VINCI CODE. Byatt weaves her two stories together beautifully: POSSESSION may be the standard by which to judge this type of book, as both stories are richly developed and rooted in the idiom of their time. The Victorian imagery reveals the love affair between the poets, and eventually between Roland and Maud, with its typical mix of emotion and restraint.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
"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 morePublished on June 12 2007 by EA Solinas
"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 morePublished on Aug. 31 2003 by EA Solinas
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 morePublished on June 16 2003 by SusanDC
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 morePublished on Aug. 19 2002 by Gail Cooke
Everyone has undoubtedly heard the maxim "Never judge a book by it's cover." It holds just as true when taken literally. Read morePublished on June 10 2002 by M. Hester
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 morePublished on May 31 2002
A.S. Byatt has pulled off a stunning achievement with her Booker Prize-winning novel - excuse me, ROMANCE - entitled Possession. Read morePublished on May 16 2002 by Matthew Krichman
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
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 morePublished on April 27 2002