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Possession (1990)

by A.S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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12,663285464 (4.01)847
Fiction. Literature. Romance. HTML:

Winner of England's Booker Prize and a literary sensation Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire ?? from spiritualist sénces to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.

Performed by Virginia Leis… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, booksatasteal, Nightshelf, booccmaster, Psmithers, Lenabena44
Legacy LibrariesGillian Rose
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1990s (5)
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» See also 847 mentions

English (263)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Italian (3)  Finnish (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  French (1)  All languages (283)
Showing 1-5 of 263 (next | show all)
Immersive, atmospheric, moody, intriguing, romantic; this is #DarkAcademia and #NoPlotJustVibes for sure!

While “Possession: a Romance” by A S Byatt will not be for everyone (and wow could I see why people wouldn’t like this) I loved it, and for the “right” reader, you will love it too.

A recent title I could compare it to would be Catherine Lacy‘s “Biography of X“ in that it deep dives into the life and times of a person— two actually— who were great creative figures, Victorian poets. It does so to the point where it feels as if these people were real. Byatt has crafted letters and whole bodies of work and the subsequent research published on these works. If, while reading, you were intrigued to know a poem that was referenced… you’ll get to read it!

The way we are given the information is a slow, thorough unfurling. We learn alongside our scholars, Roland and Maud, and for this, their scenes take up only a third of the novel. And yet, I still found myself rooting for and feeling close to them, perhaps because I am there, a silent third wheel, nose in antique letters, and nestled in the corner of a chilly room while the snow falls.

This book is so atmospheric, with glorious scenes, both Autumnal and Wintery. The spaces we visit are fully realized and carry a distinct mood. It’s as if you can smell the pages (or is that just, actually, my book) are squinting by candlelight, able to nearly see your breath in a small room overlooking the fields. It’s a University library, it’s Maud’s Burberry trench, it’s dark, and inspired, and full of the kind of passion that comes from connection of the minds … But it’s oh so quiet, slow, patient.

We spent a ton of time in the correspondence of these two Victorian poets and an adjacent accounts from family and friends, as well as their literary works, but we do get some moments of them tucked in from a closer perspective.

The language was gorgeous. Such a worthy place to call home and to then make your entire personality when you finish. (see bio quote) It’s 555 pages and packed full of words. I read this over seven days. It was also the only work of any kind I was reading at the time. I just let myself go slow. I didn’t want it to end.

I would recommend this to someone who loves literature, specifically poetry, and actually enjoyed getting their English degree or dissecting books in school. If you’re here for a vibe and to get taken on a slow-burn journey… pick it up. I’m not kidding I’ve already bought secondhand copies of her quartet and bind up of two novellas. Her work is amazing! Let’s say if “Biography of X”, “Babel”, “The Secret History” and “How to Lose the Time War” all had a baby… and that baby was unbothered about any potential short attention spans for its readers— you’d get “Possession”. Read at you own risk! ( )
  jo_lafaith | Sep 14, 2023 |
The story is interesting but slow. The characters lack depth and it is hard to get behind them - I found myself wanting to cheer for someone, anyone! The literary references are interesting but too long - you lose the plot in all the "excerpted" reading. I really wanted to finish it because one of my favorite authors seems to have used this particular book as a point of departure from his own book. Now I am just "Lost" to both. ( )
1 vote AmandaPelon | Aug 26, 2023 |
This is my favorite book! It is so beautifully written. I've read it multiple times and will a few more! ( )
  JessicaMcN | May 11, 2023 |
Yes, I must confess my initial dismissal of this novel (10 years ago) has evolved quite a lot, from 2 stars to a solid 4 stars. Marvellous stuff that is far warmer than perhaps I gave it credit for in my nebbishly intellectual youth. ( )
  therebelprince | May 1, 2023 |
1 star for the first 300 pages
2 stars for the next 100 pages
3 stars for the last 150 pages

I guess that all averages out to two stars.

Possession is a book about two academics, Roland and Maud, who each are researching a different deceased poet, Ash and LaMott. During some routine research, Roland finds a letter from Ash that suggests a romantic interest in a woman, not his wife. And with that find, a mystery is launched. Who does Ash love (not a huge spoiler at all to tell you LaMott) and what happened between them? In parallel, Roland and Maud develop their own romantic interest in one another during the course of trying to determine what really happened.

This book won the Booker Prize. It's a real literary critics' kind of book. The tale is told through narration, letters, and journals. And the characters are revealed and developed through the same, plus a huge does of poetry.

There's no doubt that Byatt put a LOT of work into this book. And her approach is very creative. But does a lot of work and a dose of creativity really mean she deserves the Booker?

Frankly, I vote no.

The first 300 pages are breathtakingly boring. Byatt's style is suffocating. She describes everything in excruciating detail to the point where the poor plot is smothered. Then there are some letters upon which the entire story hinges, and in these letters, Ash and LaMott are discussing poetry. In some kind of Victorian acadamese (I made that word up). But you can't just skim them because every 700 words or so, there is buried something of interest, without which the story will not hang together.

In addition to being seriously dull, I really feel that Byatt didn't develop her primary characters well at all. There are some supporting players who are much more interesting, and you actually have a sense of them as real human beings. But the four main characters . . .I could care less about any of them until the very, very last chapter, where Ash suddenly seems like a three dimensional person.

The book has, what some may call, a twist or a surprise at the end. After 550 pages, I didn't care, and I doubt you will either. However, the last 150 pages or so are by far the best part of the book, since that's where Byatt actually unravels some of the mysteries. And I actually thought the plot was reasonably interesting . . .just crushed under the overly pretentious language, the poetry, and so much superfluous academic observations. The end was plot driven and that held my interest a bit.

A lot of folks thought Byatt was clever in her use of two different voices for the poets . . .I didn't see it at all. They both sounded like the most pompous snobby people you could ever meet through the vast majority of the book, especially in their letters. I am not a student of poetry so maybe I just didn't appreciate the fine work there - - but I ended up just skipping the poems because I had no idea what they meant.

A lot of people LOVED this book. So before deciding whether to read it, you need to check out those reviews yourself. I'd hate to put people off something they might LOVE. And I think there was at least one PBTer who felt it was terrific.

In the end, I actually think I did like Possession the slightest bit better than Love in the Time of Cholera (my gold standard for books that had me going WTF). It was creative. There were a few nicely drawn minor characters. And from time to time, it read like a regular book - - and at those small points, it was reasonably interesting.

But I really can't bring myself to recommend this to a friend . . . ( )
1 vote Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 263 (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 (40 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
Galuzzi, FaustoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehto, LeeviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leishman, VirginiaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nadotti, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyqvist, SannaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polvinen, MerjaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walz, MelanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
בנוביץ', קטיהTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
וולק, ארזTranslatorsecondary 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
Dedication
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 …
... the awesome Flamborough Head, where so many have met terrible deaths, in the race of water and the powerful currents - which you can almost see and hear, chuckling beneath the slap of the high waves ... The cliffs are chalky-white and carved and faceted and sliced by the elements into fantastic shapes ... One stands out to sea - raising an impotent or menacing stump -
Whitby ... a sloping town, crowding down in picturesque alleys or yards and flight after flight of stone stairs to the water - a terraced town ... The shop-fronts were old and full of romance.... There were several jewellers specialising in jet.
The Boggle Hole is a cove tucked beneath cliffs, where a beck runs down across the sand to the sea, from an old mill. They walked down through flowering lanes.... A peculiarity of that beach is the proliferation of large rounded stones which lie about ... These stones are not uniform in colour or size ...
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Fiction. Literature. Romance. HTML:

Winner of England's Booker Prize and a literary sensation Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire ?? from spiritualist sénces to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.

Performed by Virginia Leis

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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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