Monday, August 15, 2005

Book 44: Possession, by A.S. Byatt

I spent a good long time with this marvelous novel, as it was such a complex and engaging tale that I wanted to give it all the attention it deserved. At its surface, the story could be viewed as a simple literary mystery. A young researcher whose work centers on a poet named Randolph Henry Ash discovers some unknown letters in a book that he is supposed to be taking notes on. These letters are written to an unnamed woman, and our protagonist takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery of who she might be. As he works to discover the truth, he comes to join forces with a formidable woman whose work centers on the poet Christabel LaMott - who does in fact turn out to be the woman of the letters. From there, the two join forces to try to uncover what happened in that long ago past - and what they learn might change the entire interpretation of what the pair wrote.

Of course, I can't begin to do the story justice with that simple synopsis. It's 555 pages long, and they are not quickly read, as I noted above. We see the tale unravel from all different viewpoints, and included in the book are poems and letters by Ash and LaMott, who were not real-life poets. This means that the author was able to convey the tale from a variety of different voices, and does so very successfully. It's particularly impressive to realize that she would have had to write a number of epic poems to be included in this work. Possession definitely was a thrill for my inner English major, and a novel I can't recommend highly enough for people who have enjoyed such recent stuff as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It has that same Victorian feel.


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