Saturday, August 16, 2008

Possession

I finished reading A.S. Byatt's Possession just before getting on a plane to Portland, and I was completely blown away. It's a long book (555 pages), but, in my opinion, it's totally worth it. If you are an English major, this book is a dream come true for you. Byatt writes a modern classic, complete with literary allusions, tons of symbolism, and a gripping storyline.

Roland Michell is a lowly academic, studying the life and work of Randolph Ash, a major poet. But he's not a recognized expert on Ash, he's hardly making any money, and he spends his time applying for jobs that he never gets. His relationship with his live-in lover, Val, has soured, and he's desperately looking for a non-confrontational way out.

One afternoon, Michell is at the English National Library, requesting an old and never-perused edition of one of Ash's own books. Within the pages, he finds undisturbed notes by the famous poet, in addition to two drafts of a very urgent, emotionally-charged letter to an unknown woman (not Ash's wife).

Siezed by unbrideled excitement and curiosity, Michell clandestinely pockets the letters, determined to find out who they were meant for. What begins then is a rousing tale of literary investigation, romance, and good-old mystery.

In his search, Roland meets Maud Bailey. Maud is a descendent of Christabel Lamotte, a poetess of some small fame, but not nearly approaching the popularity of Ash. Bailey is a professor at a college, and she is an expert on her ancestral poetess. Her concentration on Lamotte has moved her in the circles of feminist/women's literature.

Together, the two track the movements of Ash and Lamotte and slowly discover all of their secrets. In the process, Maud and Roland come to know one another in a unique way, changing their own personal and professional lives.

It may sound like boring stuff, but I cannot praise this novel enough. The novel is rich with the symbolism that Byatt is so fond of, and she sets her work again in the Victorian period (as she did in Morpho Eugenia), which she obviously has a great knowledge of and affinity for. She deftly creates the poetic works of both of her Victorian writers and sprinkles them throughout the novel.

Also, much of the novel is epistolary, using the letters between Ash and Lamotte to illuminate their relationship and explain their fascination with one another.

This is a do-not-miss book. This is a must-read book. If you are in love with literature, you will love this novel. I cannot WAIT to discuss it at next month's book club.

1 comment:

Sandi said...

This book makes me want to write. And write, and write and write ...