Review: Possession — A.S. Byatt

Read: 62
To Go: 38

Book List:
61. The Very Thought of You — Rosie Alison
62. Possession — A.S. Byatt

“Top 50 38 Romantic Lines” read: 9/38

Possession 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 seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany — what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Romantic Quote: “I cannot let you burn me up[…] No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.” (Byatt 213)

Interesting point: the Stylist list that I’ve been reading from actually mistook this quote from the quote in the movie, and transcribed it wrong. Technically, the two sentences are separated by several paragraphs (which is why I put in the ellipses), and a part of the quote they wrote down (“nor can I resist you,” which follows “I cannot let you burn me up”) exists only in the movie version. Moving forward!

So, it took me two weeks to read Possession. I did start it shortly after I finished Rosie Alison’s The Very Thought of Youbut it’s been slow going; even though I had reading week last week, and my intent was to read 5 books during, it ended up more of a “running around like a chicken with my head cut off while extremely sick” week. So that didn’t work out. And this week was equally busy. The point being: the length of time it took me to read Possession was not a reflection on my interest in the book. I really enjoyed it, even though the Stylist list has, for the most part, not been treating me well.

I’ll confess, though, I was much more invested in the love stories than the scholarly aspects of the text. On the surface, Possession seems like the perfect novel for an English minor/nerd like myself, but there was a lot of textual analysis (especially focusing on poetry) within the text, which totally went over my head. However, I will say that it was embedded really nicely, and played a huge part into the way Roland and Maud discovered the love affair between R.H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte.

Other than that, I loved the intricacies of the all the players within the text — no one was entirely, purely likeable, and they all shared a bizarre, inexplicable obsession with either R.H. Ash or Christabel LaMotte, to the point that they all feel personally connected to the poets in some way — though I suppose that’s what comes of studying one topic, or one person’s work, for too long. (There’s a great passage in the book that says as much, where Roland confesses to writing a poem or a story, realizing it was eerily similar to something Ash had written, and wondering whether he’d even come up with the thought himself, or if his subconscious knowledge of Ash’s work had placed the thought in his head. I wish I could find the section, but I couldn’t seem to place it.)

I’d definitely suggest reading Possession, if you can find the time. It’s a great story, but requires a huge time commitment.

Next book: hopefully something short!

– Kelsey

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