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Possession by A.S. Byatt
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Possession (original 1990; edition 1991)

by A.S. Byatt

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9,540194304 (4.05)557
Member:devonport
Title:Possession
Authors:A.S. Byatt
Info:Vintage (1991), Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990)

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English (180)  German (4)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (3)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (193)
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
I found this book more intriguing than straight-up enjoyable, I wanted to know what happened next and resolve the story lines while being frustrated by unsympathetic characters (who did become more sympathetic) and certain plot choices. ( )
  GeorgiaIndeed | Sep 13, 2014 |
Art is subjective.

I have just finished Possession by A S Byatt, which is a slight lie, I finished it ages ago and with the turning of the wheel of life, I have just gotten around to writing a review now. I read this book for a number of reasons, quite a few people, generally older women friends, say this book is one of their favourites. It also won the Booker Prize in 1990–so this is reason enough. The other reason I personally read it, I write contemporary love story novels and you need to know the lineage of literature and be able to talk with authority if somebody refers to it, especially in relationship to your own work, obviously this does not apply to everyone that has read it, or attempted to read it.

I did not find it the most stimulating books with regard to content, but it was a work of supreme craft, for example Byatt wrote all the poems herself for the male Victorian character Randolph Henry Ash, if you are writing poetry based on Browning or Tennyson and Rossetti for the Victorian fictional character Christabel LaMott, you lay yourself open to ridicule and scrutiny. She made this up: In certain moods we eat our lives away. In fast successive greed, we must have more. Although that more depletes our little stock. Of time and peace remaining. We are driven.
Byatt also fabricated journal entries and letters for the two Victorian lovers, something unless you have sat down and tried to do is both time consuming and difficult. There is an enormous amount of research in this long novel, something else that requires huge amounts of time and skill to edit for the final inclusion within the book. It is quite easy just to end up with an information dump situation, without skilled measure.

Then there is the breadth of vocabulary within the novel, which is quite frankly enormous–I’m glad I read it on a Kindle, otherwise I would have spent a lot of time looking words up; bathetic, pother, Gadarene, glaucous, milieu, revers, lien, costiveness, parvenu, Fourierist, phalanstery, louring, lambent, argent, bedizened, athwart, palimpsest, simulacra, adumbrate, induration, abjuration, couchant, casuistry, oolite, gimcrack, liminality, suttee, exigent, tumescence, circumlocution, sublunary – imagine if I’d gone to the effort of highlighting them instead of quickly flicking through the book as I have just done! If you get to the end of this book and have not had to look words up, you are either, a genius and should get on with writing the next great literary work or have a photographic memory.

That is just the vocabulary emphasized, imagine if I had highlighted some of the turns of phrase, the clear constructs, the similies and metaphors, knowledge needed for a work of this vast literary scope. Here again is just a few I found flicking through my Kindle, without very much effort;
Desire lies on the other side of repugnance.

His eyes behind were underwater eyes – sad and large and full of veiled friendliness.
Over unimaginable time, by the gradual action of ordinary causes.
Eyes looked out at the world steadily enough, fearless but with something held in reserve.
And his face took the brightness of her glance.
They bring their work and warm each other with their comfortable presence.
Ancient Druids believed that the spoken word was the breath of life and that writing was a form of death.
So it is with rumours. They waft, they burgeon.

Then there is the questions the books throws up, not just about the literary critic of postmodernism and metafiction, but the juxtapostioning of the modern academics and lovers, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey: Has much changed with regard to love? Would you give your child up now–When did that change? Would you not be more honest with your feelings? Would you choose to sacrifice comfort for academia? Ownership of works of art from the past and copyright? Etc, etc. The book throws up as many questions as it answers.
So, here’s the thing that annoys me, and I have to concede it may well be because I am a fiction writer; but how can someone give a book like Possession one or two stars?! Ok, you might not like the tone or the narrative, but some people not only mark it low, they have the temerity to openly admit they only read a few pages before giving up! Why bother going to the effort of reviewing it then, surely an honest review is carried out at the end of a process? I have absolutely no problem if someone does not like a book and can give some concrete personal reasons why they did not. I can only assume that some readers, unlikely to be writers, might want to mark down a book that lots of others love, to be different, misanthropic and alternative, like people who say, ‘I don’t like the Beatles.’ The same me theory applies–probably.
So for Possession a magnificent literary work, you could substitute many other great works in its place. I can see why Mein Kampf gets 2.95 on Goodreads, but not why Possession gets 3.86 and Catcher in the Rye 3.77.

I feel better now, cathartic. How about a simple rule: if you don’t read a book, don’t review it. “I can’t review this book as I only read the first twenty pages.” Why would you want a book you have not read to show up on your bookshelf, unless you like the idea of being well read, but that surely is a modern nihilistic paradox? ( )
  IanMPindar | Aug 21, 2014 |
Weer een prachtig boek van Byatt, 700 pagina's genieten van mooie taal (uitstekende vertaling!), interessante gedachtes, literatuur. Knap hoe ze verhalen uit de 19e eeuw integreert met onderzoek in de 20e eeuw en een soort spiegeling aanbrengt in relaties. Het boek bestaat uit allerlei vormen, brieven, dagboek, gedichten, verhaal met alwetende verteller. Het is een speurtocht en een romance (of eigenlijk meerdere). Enige minpuntje is het einde: dat is wel veel positiviteit en toeval bij elkaar. Maar desalniettemin: een zeer mooi boek. ( )
  elsmvst | Jul 28, 2014 |
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much Byatt can pack into her work. So many allusions and references, but each is appropriate. I have to say that I'm a bigger fan of her short fiction, but this is by far the best of her novels. It can be a little slow at times due to all the information, but it really immerses you in the world of the novel. This is one I plan on re-reading more than once, and I'm sure I'll always find something I didn't see before. Great stuff. ( )
  bookwormam | Jul 8, 2014 |
At the very outset of the rich and delightful "Possession: A Romance" author A.S. Byatt employs quotes from two unimpeachable sources, Hawthorne and Browning. She uses Hawthorne to allude to a definition of a narrative romance, which he claims requires “a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he [the writer] would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel.” The poetic quote from Browning concludes: “‘How many lies did it require to make/The portly truth you here present us with?’”

Ms. Byatt employs a wide variety of forms as she tells her “portly truth.” Set in the late 1980s (it was published in 1990), her main framework contains the story of two British scholars, Maud and Roland, who specialize in two different 19th Century British poets. They discover an astounding and game-changing correspondence between their two favorites (both fictional) – no one thought they had had anything to do with each other. Our generous author discloses the remarkable letters, goes back in time to tell the story of the two poets, and eventually supplies a kind of closure that I certainly did not see coming. She mixes in academic jealousy and competition, some skullduggery, and even though the book runs more than 540 pages, its sustained pace is remarkable.

The title itself is fodder for the author’s full and playful treatment: can two people possess each other? Can anyone possess correspondence between two strangers from the previous century? What demons or vapors possess people in fits of passion? What do academic theories possess which makes them so compelling to their adherents? Wry answers are hinted at here, some made much more plainly than others. I found that the whole works exceedingly well.

"Possession" engages you on many levels. If you’re at all interested in academic study of poetry, or of narrative art in general, Ms. Byatt serves up plenty of meat for you, some of it extremely mocking and funny. If you want to experience two thrown-together young people, who try navigate their feelings and tentative hopes, this is for you. If you want to experience some remarkable letters between two exceedingly literate and thoughtful people, and some very tasty Victorian-style poetry, (all Ms. Byatt’s own compositions) this is the place to be.

"Possession: A Romance" serves up multifarious forms of fun, and does it with an elegant, free-flowing panache. I urge you to take it up. I enjoyed my time with it thoroughly.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2014/06/possession-romance-by-s-byatt.html ( )
1 vote LukeS | Jun 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
This is a romance, as the subtitle suggests, but it's a romance of ideas — darkly intricate Victorian ideas and modern academic assembly-line ideas. The Victorian ideas get the better of it.
 
Shrewd, even cutting in its satire about how literary values become as obsessive as romantic love, in the end, “Possession” celebrates the variety of ways the books we possess come to possess us as readers.
 
I won't be so churlish as to give away the end, but a plenitude of surprises awaits the reader of this gorgeously written novel. A. S. Byatt is a writer in mid-career whose time has certainly come, because ''Possession'' is a tour de force that opens every narrative device of English fiction to inspection without, for a moment, ceasing to delight.
added by stephmo | editNew York Times, Jay Parini (Oct 21, 1990)
 

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Byatt, A. S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alopaeus, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baardman, GerdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dugdale, RowenaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehto, LeeviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyqvist, SannaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polvinen, MerjaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walz, MelanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former -- while as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart -- has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. ... The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us. -- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Preface to The House of the Seven Gables
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For Isobel Armstrong
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The book was thick and black and covered with dust.
Quotations
The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. It spine was missing,

or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow. … it had been exhumed from …
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
"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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679735909, Paperback)

"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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:56 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

As a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets uncover their letters, journals, & poems, & trace their movements from London to Yorkshire-and from spiritualist seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany-an extraordinary counterpoint of passions & ideas emerges. An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, an intellectual mystery, and a triumphant love story. This tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets became a huge bookseller favorite, and then on to national bestellerdom. Winner of England's Booker Prize, a coast-to-coast bestseller, and the literary sensation of the year, Possession is a novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. Revolving around a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets, Byatt creates a haunting counterpoint of passion and ideas.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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