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Possession
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2007
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. Byatt -- sister of award winning novelist Margaret Drabble -- tells a complex story within a story, moving back and forth between modern-day scholars Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, and the fictional Victorian poets who are the subjects of their research.

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. The modern story satirizes the British academic scene.

POSSESSION may not be the easiest book I ever read, but it's among the most rewarding. If you haven't read it in the many years since it was first published, then I recommend it to you.
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"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 myth. It's almost chastely erotic, mysterious and dripping over with Victorian-era romance. It's hard not to be drawn in.

A young scholar, Roland, stumbles accidently on an old letter from acclaimed poet Randolph Ash. He soon has reason to believe that the letter was to Christabel La Monte, a lesser-known "fairy" poet -- except Ash was happily married, and La Monte was single all her life. Roland and the chilly fellow scholar Maud investigate caches of hidden letters, poems, and diaries by the lovers, wife, friends and relatives.

In the past, the cordial letters of Christabel and Randolph blossomed into love and passion. They vanished for a short, blissful time together. But what happened to Christabel and Randolph's love, and why did Christabel leave England, while her companion Blanche committed suicide? And how do these events somehow involve Roland and Maude's own growing attachment?

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and in "Possession" it's a valuable historical tool. When words are hidden or read, it can change perceptions and even lives. Byatt's own words are wonderfully lush, dreamy and vivid. Given the rather formal language and writing, it almost seems like a nineteenth-century novel, as if Byatt got so swept up in the characters that she started writing like them.

Byatt has an excellent eye for the language of the era. The letters, poetry and fiction of Christabel and Randolph have a very authentic feel. Especially since Byatt manages to change tones for different people's writing (Christabel's poetry was a bit reminiscent of Emily Dickenson's). The only problem is when the book veers into long tangents; Byatt seems to get a little off-track there. But most of the time, the richness of Breton legend adds depth and mystery to an already beautiful novel. The sunken city of Is, the legend of Melusina, and many others are here.

Byatt gives us an amazing look at the ill-fated lovers, Christabel and Randolph; you can feel their passion and love. They aren't just attracted to each other, but drawn together in the mind and spirit. The supporting characters, such as the artist Blanche and devoted, wistful Ellen Ash, are equally well-drawn; you can't dislike any of them. Roland and Maud seem a little anemic by comparison, but they are still compelling characters, caught up in a love affair from over a hundred years ago.

After taking the recommendation of a good friend, I found that "Possession" is the kind of genuine, heartwrenching romance that you don't see much of -- meetings of minds, genuine passion and love. It's a beautiful thing, and something to be deeply treasured.
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"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 myth. It's almost chastely erotic, mysterious and dripping over with Victorian-era romance. It's hard not to be drawn in.

A young scholar, Roland, stumbles accidently on an old letter from acclaimed poet Randolph Ash. He soon has reason to believe that the letter was to Christabel La Monte, a lesser-known "fairy" poet -- except Ash was happily married, and La Monte was single all her life. Roland and the chilly fellow scholar Maud investigate caches of hidden letters, poems, and diaries by the lovers, wife, friends and relatives.

In the past, the cordial letters of Christabel and Randolph blossomed into love and passion. They vanished for a short, blissful time together. But what happened to Christabel and Randolph's love, and why did Christabel leave England, while her companion Blanche committed suicide? And how do these events somehow involve Roland and Maude's own growing attachment?

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and in "Possession" it's a valuable historical tool. When words are hidden or read, it can change perceptions and even lives. Byatt's own words are wonderfully lush, dreamy and vivid. Given the rather formal language and writing, it almost seems like a nineteenth-century novel, as if Byatt got so swept up in the characters that she started writing like them.

Byatt has an excellent eye for the language of the era. The letters, poetry and fiction of Christabel and Randolph have a very authentic feel. Especially since Byatt manages to change tones for different people's writing (Christabel's poetry was a bit reminiscent of Emily Dickenson's). The only problem is when the book veers into long tangents; Byatt seems to get a little off-track there. But most of the time, the richness of Breton legend adds depth and mystery to an already beautiful novel. The sunken city of Is, the legend of Melusina, and many others are here.

Byatt gives us an amazing look at the ill-fated lovers, Christabel and Randolph; you can feel their passion and love. They aren't just attracted to each other, but drawn together in the mind and spirit. The supporting characters, such as the artist Blanche and devoted, wistful Ellen Ash, are equally well-drawn; you can't dislike any of them. Roland and Maud seem a little anemic by comparison, but they are still compelling characters, caught up in a love affair from over a hundred years ago.

After taking the recommendation of a good friend, I found that "Possession" is the kind of genuine, heartwrenching romance that you don't see much of -- meetings of minds, genuine passion and love. It's a beautiful thing, and something to be deeply treasured.
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on June 16, 2003
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 what it's like to spend countless hours in dusty archives in search of enlightenment or even truth. This book is an academic fantasy, flawlessly recreating the obsession one feels when on the trail of a great research topic, the ecstasy of finding the one magnificent piece of evidence that suddenly makes years of effort worthwhile, as well as the almost blind passion with which many scholars imbue their subjects with their personal point of view--and the paradigm shifts that must occur when that view is challenged.
But this book is no mere academic mystery tale. Byatt wins my heart by consistently drawing characters who are intellectually gifted yet emotionally flawed and not always certain of their place in their chosen--unreservedly critical--profession. In Possession, her researchers are not only intellectual but human and vulnerable, struggling to unearth an emotional life that equals their intellectual one.
Not for everyone, but for people who require a smart read in addition to a great story, this one is a classic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2002
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.
The flowing poems and verses may be the novel's styling, the romance its subject, but "Possession" is above all a thriller and a breathtakingly exhilarating one at that. No violence, bloodletting or shootouts, only treachery of the kind practised by learned men of letters. They're all so civilised yet undeniably vicious in their scheming and stalking of one another, it's like having one's throat slit by paper. So fine and fatal. Byatt's enactment of the final scene at the graveyard, where she calls upon the elements to unleash their destructive power, is a dramatic coup de grace that would translate perfectly on screen.
A S Byatt is a difficult novelist. Not surprisingly, "Possession" - her grand opus - doesn't make easy reading but a more finely crafted entity drawing upon a tapestry of subgenres you will not find. Truly a modern masterpiece. It'll be a tragedy if younger readers remember it as the book that inspired the film. Don't let that happen. Go read the real thing !
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon August 19, 2002
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 scholarship.
Two young academicians, Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell, are engaged in research projects involving a pair of Victorian writers. They study letters, journals, poems, and track the pair's comings and goings. Roland is hopeful that he will perhaps discover clues in the Victorian author's marginal notes.
But, it is Maud who brings to light the romance between the late authors, he who was thought to have been contentedly wed, and she who was believed to have been a rather reclusive spinster.
As the story of the romance between their research subjects surfaces, Roland and Maud begin to look more deeply within themselves.
"Possession" is an intense study, an intriguing blend of the cerebral and the physical.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2002
Everyone has undoubtedly heard the maxim "Never judge a book by it's cover." It holds just as true when taken literally. I picked this book up for because the painting used on the cover caught my eye. I decided to use it for an oral book report in my English class. I started reading expecting a moving, amazing book. All I got was boring stuff for 495 pages with the last 5 being of any interest at all, that was 3 years ago and to this day I recall the absolute bore that this book was. The idea is interesting to be sure, but when it's bogged down by bad poetry and characters who aren't fully drawn it becomes a book that personally wasn't worth the paper that it was printed on. I may not be some literary critic, but I do know what doesn't work. If however you are looking for some good modern writers may I suggest Gregory Maguire, Daniel Handler, and Jeffrey Eugenides.
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on May 31, 2002
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. I loved the way the story unravelled of the secret romance but I didn't find the poetry or the letters very interesting. Despite it being a really interesting book, I was slightly disappointed with the ending which I thought could have been worked on more.
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on May 16, 2002
A.S. Byatt has pulled off a stunning achievement with her Booker Prize-winning novel - excuse me, ROMANCE - entitled Possession. Some, like myself, may find it tedious at times, especially if you are not a fan of Victorian epic poetry, with which Byatt opens many of her chapters and fills dozens upon dozens of pages. But quality literature is worth the effort, and this is indeed quality literature. If at first the poetic interludes frustrate you, give yourself time to appreciate them. By the end you will realize how much texture and flavor they add to a beautifully woven literary tapestry.
Possession is the story of two young scholars, Roland and Maud,whose paths cross when they realize that the poets they are researching - Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively - may have had a brief yet passionate affair. Through recently discovered journal entries, letters, and poems, the two scholars follow a trail of clues that they hope will lead them to a profound discovery. The plot thickens as an overzealous American scholar attempts to woo the holder of these manuscripts in an attempt to remove them from England and store them at his university's library across the pond.
Possession is reminiscent of the best of 19th century British fiction. It is filled with an overwhelming feeling of period authenticity. Byatt masterfully blends poetry with prose in a way few authors can. And as a result she has produced a work of immense beauty that will be treasured for years to come.
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on May 14, 2002
Possession is a great love story and is beautifully written. One of the best novels I've ever read.
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