Possession by A.S. Byatt

It’s books like this that make me remember why I started doing this.

Posession is a book that’s been sitting on my to-read shelf for ages without ever particularly motivating me to read it. The real and ridiculous reason that I even bought it was because it was part of that Vintage  colours range and I like different coloured spines on my bookshelves. I am shallow and childish like that. Judge away.

But not only is Possession a delightful shade of purple, it is also a ridiculously brilliant novel. The story centres on two couples: Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, scholars of Victorian poets Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte. When Roland finds an incomplete letter from Ash to LaMotte he begins tracking a literary trail of clues that unearths a previously unimagined connection between the two authors, offering insights into hidden periods of their lives and work. However with the promise of every new discovery there are more dead ends as well as rival scholars on Roland and Maud’s tail.

The genius of this book is the Ash and LaMotte source material all written by Byatt. She creates epic poems, fairy tale stories, letters and diary entries for the pair as well as literary criticism and biographies from other characters. Completely convincing, these documents not only allow A.S. Byatt to show off her range but are also integral in furthering the story and establish characters with complete inner lives. I actually Googled them to make sure they weren’t real. Then there are the complex relationships, both past and present, of the characters themselves and between scholars and their subjects. AND apart from that Byatt manages to pose important literary questions about subtext, sexual politics and the issue of particular readings closing off other meanings.

While it took me a while to get into, this book is SO ACCOMPLISHED. It’s a wonderful reminder of the payoff for not being lazy with reading. I feel like I could go back and read it again and get even more out of it, but for the moment, other books call.

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