Saturday, September 26, 2009

Possession Review

Possession by A.S. Byatt starts in a library and spends half of its time in the Victorian era. It’s a romance after my own heart. The novel opens with a scholar, Roland Mitchell, finding a rough draft of a letter by the poet Randolph Henry Ash which he has reason to believe hasn’t been seen since Ash put the letter there himself. The letter is to a young lady and in it Ash talks of how she impressed him with her conversational skills at a lunch they both attended and asks if they might meet again. The scholar is driven to find out if Ash ever sent a copy of the letter, and who the young lady he was so taken with is. The lady turns out to be a poet as well, Christabel LaMotte. In order to find out more Mitchell seeks out the aid of one of the leading LaMotte scholars, Maud Bailey. The two follow the trail of letters to try to discover what happened between these two poets a hundred years ago, a path that leads them throughout the British and French countryside. The novel is alternately a sort of literary detective thriller as the two scholars try to unravel the mysterious affair, a modern romance, a Victorian romance, an epistolary novel (which I adore, the loss of the art of writing physical letters and diaries is one that I lament), and a satire of academia, romantic relationships, the victorian and the modern era. There are a few poems peppered throughout the novel as well. The novel has narrative ADD, but I love it! Despite the fact that the novel is subtitled a romance, I did not find it overly romantic. The novel had a sense of pragmatism that precluded young lovers finding each other then living in a fairy tale without a care in the world (although fairy tales did play an important part in the novel). The sensibility of the novel also prevented anyone from sinking into the depths of despair because love is the only thing worth living for and indulging in a truly Tragic Romance. The novel was a bit slow-paced in the beginning when Mitchell and Bailey are first sniffing out the trail but, at least for me, it more than made up for any slow beginnings by the end. Overall I’d give the novel five stars, with the caveat that my love of libraries, English majors, Victoriana, and letters prevents me from giving a completely objective review. I am not, however, alone in my love of this novel as it did win the Man Booker Prize and if you have a bit of literary geek in you as well I reccomend it.
“The only life I am sure of is the life of the Imagination.”
“But poets don’t want homes—do they?—they are not creatures of hearths and firedogs, but of heaths and ranging hounds.”

“The Poems are not for the young lady, the young lady is for the Poems.”

“The difference between poets and novelists is this—that the former write for the life of the language—and the latter write for the betterment of the world.”

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