Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Possession by A.S Byatt

Reviewed by Lucia.

Published: 1990.

It's about: Passionate academics Roland Michell and Maud Bailey uncover a stash of letters between the two Victorian poets they have dedicated their careers to: Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte, a connection which was not previously known to have existed. Initially, Roland and Maud's discovery alters their research only, but as they unearth the truth of the correspondence, their involvement becomes increasingly personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they are drawn together by their urgency, both of them from solitude and loneliness, challenging the most basic knowledge about themselves, and uncovering their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and LaMotte's past.

I thought:Byatt's daunting novel is intricately written and passionate in every sense, and reading it reminded me why I love the English language. Her style is lush and wordy in the best possible manner. I was primarily drawn to the details of emotional description as opposed to the author's physical descriptions, and Byatt succeeds brilliantly at this. I loved simply her choice of words, over other literary techniques. The depictions of people and the images evoked from them are built with a fluid yet occasionally bizzare choice language, however I quite liked this peculiarity and was interested by it. Moreover, the author's use of poetry in very intense. Not being a huge reader of the text type, I read the poems without looking too much into their meaning in relation to the overall storyline. Despite this, the plot was comprehensible, and the metaphors which I did pick up on were clever and well integrated.

Although the text is highly complex and presented through a combination of third person narration, letters, journal entries, and poetry, the plot is surprisingly easy to follow. While the novel is satirical on the present biography industry, for me, Possession was driven by its romantic side. I enjoyed reading the pointed comparisons between Cropper, Maud and Roland's motives, and in smaller portions, Leonora, Blackadder and Beatrice's motivations and academic ambitions when it came to their respective research subjects. Cropper's interest in Ash appeared to be powered by material greed, alternative to that of Maud and Roland, who's hunger seemed to be more individual and desperate. I felt that the ending supplied the irony in this, as the two groups finished comfortably at the same point, regardless of the varied aspects of possession they were driven by. These prominent characters are developed thoroughly and evenly throughout the course of the novel. The manner in which Byatt paced this was manipulated to then create the essential love story. The similarities of the relationships between Ash and LaMotte, and Roland and Maud, are evident yet not absurd. I found it both beautiful and obscurely satisfying to read Byatt's perfect descriptions of the ways in which the nature of possession affected the pairs separately.

Having gushed my praise for this novel, I must say that it's not without a down side. Byatt's slow torture of her readers through poetry and dense prose during the first 200 odd pages of the novel is almost unbearable. I was grasping and absolutely desperate for something to happen with the plot without having to read someone's lofty observations through their journal or similar means. Yet I was constantly reminded of the perfect trap the author had set up by binding the reader to the story with something near obsessive curiosity early on, then proceeding to drag them through a dull first portion. Ironically, this is very well done.

Verdict: In Between. This is a massive, yet magnificent novel, however I don't think it's one I would re read.

Reading Recommendations:Please don't be put off by the size and amounts of poetry! I wish I had read a little more closely at the connections between the plot and the poetry.

Warnings: Zero.

What I'm reading next:Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (reading for the second time).