Review: Possession, A. S. Byatt

Review: Possession, A. S. ByattPossession by A.S. Byatt
Narrator: Virginia Leishman
Published by Vintage ISBN: 0679735909
on October 1, 1991
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 555
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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Goodreads
five-stars

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.

Man Booker Prize Winner (1990)

I first read this novel about 20 years ago on my husband’s recommendation, and I felt like revisiting it. It’s even better than I remembered. The blurb doesn’t do Byatt’s genius justice. Not only did she invent a fictional love story between two fictional Victorian poets, but she also managed to build a world of literary criticism around the poets, replete with territorial academics and tongue-in-cheek digs at some of the wild theories academics espouse about symbolism and meaning. On top of all that, she wrote poetry and critical excerpts purportedly the work of her characters. All of this serves to make this novel and its characters very real. You might swear, after reading the book, that you also had to read Randolph Henry Ash in school and also couldn’t make any sense of him (just as a few of the characters say).

Ash appears to be based on Robert Browning, and this supposition is strengthened by the fact that Byatt’s mother was a Browning scholar. She likely heard many of the things that later cropped up in her book around the dinner table at home. Christabel LaMotte seems to be a composite of writers like Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë. The scholars studying their work seem pretty recognizable figures in academia. I think this book might potentially have a narrow appeal. I’m sure English literature nerds, poetry lovers, and anyone interested in Victorian literature would enjoy it, but beyond that, the poetry passages are purposefully dense and difficult, and I’m not sure the general reading public would find the plot thrilling. (I did.) If your interests lie within that narrow window, reading this book will provide great rewards.

Because a good chunk of this novel is set in the 1850s-1860s, I’m counting it as my first book in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2022. I’m also counting as a book set in the United Kingdom (a small part is set in France) for the European Reading Challenge. See my reading challenges page for more.

five-stars

2022 Reading Goals

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Happy New Year! I hope 2022 is off to a good start for you and yours. I’m holding out hope that this year, COVID will be endemic like the flu or other coronaviruses, and that we can emerge from this pandemic and learn to live with this novel coronavirus. It has been such a hard couple of years. I never could have imagined I would see what we have seen these last two years.

Last year, I managed to surpass my goal of reading 50 books by two books, but I’m still planning to try to read 50 books in 2022. I have joined a few reading challenges, as I usually do. I find they help me diversify my reading and try books I might not otherwise try.

I think I participated in the European Reading Challenge some years back, but I’m joining again this year. My goal is to read five books.

I almost always participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge since it’s my favorite genre. Last year, I lowballed and wound up surpassing my goal, so this year I’m going for it and planning to read 10 books at the Renaissance Reader level.

I’ve participated in the Monthly Motif Challenge for the last couple of years, but I’ve never managed to complete it. Maybe this year? The goal is to complete each month’s reading challenge for a total of 12 books.

The Poetry Reading Challenge is new to me, but I’m excited to try it, especially as I have been reading more poetry over the last few years. I plan to complete all three challenges:

  1. Read a poem a day for a month.
  2. Read a poetry collection.
  3. Read five additional poetry collections.

Finally, the This or That Reading Challenge offers two challenges each month, and the goal is to complete one or the other each month for a total of 12 books.

I always love setting these goals at the beginning of the year. The whole year is before me, and the possibilities seem endless.