Byatt, A.S. Possession: a romance. New York: Random house, 1990.
Reason read: Byatt was born in August.
Possession is nothing short of amazing. Byatt invites you down so many different rabbit holes it is impossible to predict where you will end up. Young
academic Roland Mitchell has an obsession with long-dead poet Randolph Henry Ash. He’s in competition with several other scholars researching Ash, all equally as obsessed. They all feel they “possess” the man. When you first meet Roland you cannot help but think of him as a spineless wimp; a bland soul without backbone. From the beginning, you are told he is an unwilling participant in his relationship with girlfriend, Val, by his reluctance to rock the boat with her. The real problem lies in the probability he doesn’t even want the boat at all. All he cares about is researching the life and times of Randolph Ash. This timid nature poses a real problem when he stumbles upon a new fact about Ash, something never reported before. So begins the mystery. Byatt takes us from Roland’s world to Randall’s world. Via letters, journals and poetry a secret is exposed. With the help of another young academic, Roland’s opposite in every way, Roland discovers the truth about his beloved Randall Ash. His own true self is revealed as well.
As an aside, I love concentric circles. I just finished a book about Virginia Woolf and she makes a mention here in Possession. Also, I just finished seeing Natalie Merchant in concert. Christina Rossetti pops up in Natalie’s music and Byatt’s Possession.
Quotations to quote: “The basement was full of the sharp warmth of frying onions which meant she was cooking something complicated” (p 19), “…It did not have for him the magnetic feel of the two letters that were folded into his pocket, but it represented the tease of curiosity” (p 49), and one more, “They sit at table and exchange metaphysical theories and I sit there like a shape-shifting witch, swelling with rage and shrinking with shame, and they see nothing (p 396).
Author fact: at the time of publication Byatt had written five fictions and several nonfictions.
Book trivia: the cover to Possession is a painting of Sir Edward Burne-Jones called “The Beguiling of Merlin.” I have to admit, Merlin is a little freaky looking.
Nancy said: Pearl said Possession is probably Byatt’s best known work but not her favorite.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 6).