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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Possession by A.S. Byatt

"I have dreamed nightly of your face and walked the streets of my daily life with the rhythms of your writing singing in my silent brain. I have called you my Muse, and so you are, or might be, a messenger from some urgent place of the spirit where essential poetry sings and sings." (page 211)

About the Book (from Winner of England’s Booker Prize and the literary sensation of the year, Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas. 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.

My Thoughts
     I must confess- I had to really commit to completing this novel but it was definitely worth the effort. Possession by A.S. Byatt (Vintage International, 1990) is written in a complicated structure, interwoven with Victorian poetry, prose and letters. Weaving two separate stories from two different time periods, Possession explores the contrast between male and female relationships of the past versus today and how society's perception of acceptable behavior has developed.
     As English Scholars Roland Michell and Maud Bailey study Victorian Poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively, their studies draw them to one another as they stumble upon clues that link the two poets together. As these two worlds collide, a slew of characters aid in bringing a secret love story to light, resulting in the creation of a new romance between Michell and Bailey.

"Somewhere in the locked-away letters, Ash had referred tot he plot of fate that seemed to hold or drive the dead lovers. Roland thought, partly with precise postmodernist pleasure, and partly with a real element of superstitious dread, that he and Maud were being driven by a plot or fate that seemed, at least possibly, to be not their own plot or fate but that of those others." (page 436)

     Cataloged as a romance, Possession is also sprinkled with a dose of mystery, tragedy, and fairy tale. It is a study of the social classes and the act of conforming. Love is at the root of all the themes that run under the surface of the character's personal journeys. The profound academic vocabulary can slow the reader down exponentially but also aids in the full digestion of the content. Language is almost a character in itself. Byatt layers intricate research, historical insights, and beautiful prose as only a master writer could.

Book Club Suggestions: Possession may not be the best book club selection for all groups. If your group is interested in historical literature, poetry, or more challenging reads, Possession will offer a lot of topics for discussion. Have members select a favorite poem, past or present, and recite it at the meeting or encourage each to write a love letter to their significant other.

Happy Reading!


  1. Possession is one of my favourite books of all times. I have read it three times - so far, I am sure I will read it again. I just love it that much. An interesting story.

    Marianne from Let's Read

    1. I agree Marianne. I think I could read this one all over again.



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