Title: Possession: A Romance (Modern Library)
Author: A.S. Byatt
Release Date: October 17, 1990
Publisher: Modern Library
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
When Roland Mitchell unearths two unfinished letters from famed Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash in the annals of the British Library, he becomes intrigued by their contents. After all, he is an Ash scholar, but isn’t quite sure of who these letters might be addressed to. His search takes him to Maud Bailey, a scholar on Christabel LaMotte, one of Ash’s contemporaries, and they begin a quest to discover secrets that have remained hidden for over a hundred years.
I’ve seen the movie version of Possession, and while I absolutely love it, I have always wanted to read the book. After all, I have always had an affinity with Booker Prize novels, and I’ve heard some great things about this book. It was with high expectations (and therefore, some trepidation) that I began reading this masterpiece of fiction.
In a lot of ways, the title Possession really sums up the novel. Ash and Christabel possess one another, even when they are apart. The search to uncover the truth behind their connection possesses Maud and Roland, to the point where they lie to their colleagues in order to cover their tracks. They become extremely possessive of their quest; it becomes their secret, connecting the two of them, even as they are hesitant to possess one another. There are so many aspects of the novel that one can apply an interpretation of the word “possession” – it’s a very apt title for the novel.
Byatt takes on a huge endeavor with this novel, creating two fictional 19th century writers – Ash and LaMotte. She doesn’t just create their personalities; she writes their epic poetry that can only be decoded through knowledge of their connection with one another. It’s hard to believe that they weren’t real people, with the breadth of work Byatt creates in order to bring these people to life.
Just as Maud and Roland are discovering the relationship between Ash and LaMotte, so too are they feeling out one another. It’s an interesting parallel, and one that’s beautifully written. They are both hesitant, reserved people, so it’s wonderful to watch them grow and change because of the other’s influence, as well as the influence of Ash and LaMotte.
Byatt’s writing is simply to die for in Possession. From the poetry of Ash and LaMotte, in which she gives each their own distinctive voice and style, to the text of the narrative, it’s clear, precise, and a joy to read. It moves the story along, making it flow evenly. She also does a wonderful job giving each character, whether major or minor, their own unique voice and personality.
I could go on and on about the beauty and wonder of this amazing novel, but I’ll stop myself here. Though I still love the movie version of Possession, I realize that it couldn’t even scratch the surface of Byatt’s incredible book. I will definitely be picking up more of Byatt’s work soon.