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A honking great piece of literary self gratification, a novel about writers all novels about writers should be given a concrete overcoat , a grand excuse for A S Byatt to dazzle us with some fancy ventriloquism, and yes you can feel the throb of the author s perfervid intelligence like a lawnmower hacking away at the tough grass at the edge of the lawn but after all of that you have to come clean and say that Possession isn t worth the thinnest novelette written by Raymond Chandler or the most offhand poem by e e cummings or the most obscure B side by the Beach Boys either A pure waste of time which I was suckered into by someone whose taste I had thought trustworthy, so that was a lesson bitterly learned This book breaks one of PB s commandments Thou shalt not write a book which is a series of SOCK PUPPETS designed entirely to impress the hoi polloi at the Hay on Wye Literary festival when you read bits out to them in FUNNY VOICES. A while ago I said to myself, I m going to pay attention to doing things that make me happy So I m going to cook creatively and read fantasy, because I keep forgetting I like those things Then I started reading Possession The happiness project got put on the back burner until I was ready to emerge from the Victorian melancholia, which placed demands on my time too great to allow for preparing meals I never cried at this book, exactly, but I frequently wept the way a lemon meringue pie weeps when you leave it out and come back to find dots of moisture on the surface.Oh, it was beautiful, though, a book of such tangible substance that sometimes, when I was reading it while standing, I would feel as if the book were holding me up instead of the other way around I ve read and loved a couple of A.S Byatt s short story collections, so I knew she had a fine control of language, but Possession is on a different plane, telling the story with a multitude of voices through letters, poems, criticism, biography, and journal entries as well as the prose of the main narrative Byatt didn t just write some poems to go in her novel, she created two major Victorian poets from whole cloth, fitted them exactly into a time and a place, and made so bold as to have a character say about one of them, You can t understand the twentieth century without understanding him Does that mean we can t understand the twentieth century fully, in a world where there was never a Randolph Henry Ash This poet isn t a fictionalized Tennyson or Browning, he s a completely invented eminent Victorian Christabel LaMotte, likewise, is something entirely new her poems have a dash of Emily Dickinsonian diction but with French English, devout Christian, determinedly feminist sensibilities I don t know if anyone calls this book a work of alternate history, but it was poignant to think about what would be different in a world that included this poetry I wish I could visit that world, just to read the rest of Ragnarok and Melusina The prose itself bordered on poetry, to such an extent that sometimes I had to stop to savor a rhythm Like here But he had known immediately that she was for him, she was to do with him, as she really was or could be, or in freedom might have been I would quote , but I ve already loaned out the copy I read In addition to the new old poetry, Possession has packed inside it a meditation on the arts of scholarship and biography the most moving writing about celibacy I ve ever come across a critical work on the erotics of reading and a half lament, half ode to the powers of time and memory and forgetting And, as the cover proclaims, it is a romance a set of entwined love stories written with impossible precision and believability It is a book about books, but in such a generous way that nearly everything books can be about is in here Reading something like this makes me glad that there is such a thing as literary fiction. OK I have to say something People keep writing reviews of this book and talking about how it was great except for all the boring poems which they skipped through.READ THE POETRY, PEOPLE What s the matter with everyone They re actually rather good, they are full of plot clues, and, duh, they re a key part of the novel you re reading I mean what is going on here Do people really hate poetry so much that they re skipping a few pages of it in the middle of a story If you try that shit with Hamlet you re going to miss half the play Or is this part of some weird trend Perhaps you hold your hands over your ears when the Rolling Stones switch to 12 8 time, or fast forward through all the Frank Sivero scenes in Goodfellas Or is it literally just verse I mean, you know there are books out there which are all poetry, right What s the matter, do you have a rhyme allergy Too much alliteration brings on your irritable bowel syndrome What s going on I give up.PS the actual book is excellent Oct 2009 Literary critics make natural detectives I loved this novel I know there are plenty of arguments against it, but to me, it summed up my life in the grey zone between reality lived and consumed in fiction Whoever was caught by the passion of reading a love story that is inexhausible, lifelong, passionate, and thus unlike most love stories between people will recognise the thoughts that accompany the lovers on the tracks of fiction past Whoever considers their library their most important POSSESSION will know the excitement of adding just a single poem s perfect rhythm to a collection already known by heart , like a part in our blood circulation, as Byatt points out.Whoever has felt a novel take POSSESSION of heart and mind for hours on end knows that reading is a curse and a blessing at the same time, for it makes one feel angry about being POSSESSED by schedules and everyday life business when all one wants to do is curl up alone and take POSSESSION of the story waiting between two covers.Writers write alone, and readers read alone, Byatt says, but they are alone together And that is true Sometimes I feel lonely in company than alone with my books I never had a real life person who wanted to share my possessive passion for books So sharing these fictional characters possession is as close to a communal literary experience as I will ever get. Too much work for too little reward.I read somewhere that if you pick up a book, and you re not enjoying it by either a your age if you are under 50 or b 100 minus your age if you are over 50 , you should abandon it and move on There is too much to read and life is too short to be spent reading bad books.I think this applies particularly to books in that grey zone, where you can tell the writer is winding up to something, and the style and story has enough ooomph in it to keep you powering on, despite perhaps your better judgement A.S Byatt s Possession A Romance is definitely in that zone It s not that Byatt is not a good writer she is I am enjoying her eviscerating attack on the insular, political world of academia, with its serpent eating its tail kind of irrelevance The set up of the grad student teaching assistant temp couple, living in a dank basement, banned from the garden, and feeding off of each other in passive aggressive co dependency was well, pretty much perfect and hit a little close to home The send up of feminist scholarship is priceless.But it s all a little too much to wade through for just a taste of these morsels It s too clever, and too complicated, by half So far, I ve got two major characters, two minor characters, a slew of tertiary characters including some that we see only through the eyes of the two major ones two poets who are two major characters from each of whom I am getting internal monologue, dialogue, and painstakingly fabricated Victorian era poems, letters, and academic research papers reflecting all of that And these are rife with references, allusions and imagery from Victorian and classical times, both faux and likely real, but I just can t sort it all out and right now, I don t really want to Oh, and we re on two continents, one convincingly, and one much less so I ve given it to p 108, and I m still not sure that I won t come back to it Perhaps a different season, a different frame of mind This novel is likely, for me, like drinking single malt scotch in the summer sometimes I do, but I rarely enjoy it I need a bracing cool autumn evening, or a blizzardy night, woodfire blazing, my faithful companion, Sutcliffe, the Beagle, by my side In other words, I need to get into a rarified connoisseur s headspace and let the experience wash over me while I noodle away at it like a crossword.I will put this one back on the shelf and maybe try again in January. Stolen snapshots that defy the laws of space and time Past.A poet observes a mystical creature, half woman half mermaid, scouting cliffs and creeks, bathing in unruly seas and still ponds, getting drenched in the cascade of his flowing words The ache of losing God is not so acute when intellect is met with incandescent creativity Or with unrestrained love His gentle curiosity breathes life into inert things, making them shine with an inner glow of their own, because he doesn t aspire to possess what he loves, he cherishes it and makes it flourish in its natural state Present.A self effacing, underpaid assistant researcher in a dark room that smells of stale history survives in reality while his mind thrives with verses penned by the dead Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash Unaware that he possesses a voice of his own he searches for the veiled truths of his life in the legacy of the iconic poet.Past.A petite, pale woman with gleaming eyes, green like emeralds, crystalline like a dragon s stare, sits in a carriage oblivious of the bearded gentleman sitting opposite her who memorizes the lines of her features with fascinated absorption She is reserved, protective of her independence and shrouded in mystery Skeptical of romantic love, her passion is devoted to the life of language She speaks in tongues of fire and torrents of poems spring from the briny seas of her feral imagination She moves like water, eluding possession in her ever changing shape Present.A successful scholar specialized in the underrated poetess Christabel LeMotte flushes with emotion as she anxiously leafs through yellowish pages, wrapped by the familiar odor of mildew, wax and ash Unusually blond and displaying a cool and poised detachment, she covets loneliness guided by fear of being possessed Four characters Two stories Parallel plotlines Present and past dissolve in undelivered letters, secret diaries and rose scented poems that act like two way mirrors where reality becomes a mirage and generally agreed facts mere artificial constructs Combining cultivated erudition, refined literary taste and virtuous mastery of several genres, Byatt exposes her characters to psychological vivisection merging fictional plot with intricate disquisitions and creates highly distinctive voices that speak to the different realities of the reader.Fast paced dialogues sprouting from picturesque secondary characters of the Academia tinted with sporadic brushtrokes of colorful yet haunting humor create the perfect palette for a Gothic scenario where raging storms, spooky cemeteries and ancient legends blend with sumptuous meditation on the concept of possession Does love inevitably imply possession How can the bird fly free in the gilded cage of desire Can love be restorative rather than demanding Is selfless love a chimera Byatt doesn t offer clear answers She uses the third person narrator not as an omniscent actor but as a means to bring her characters closer to the readers and allow them to reach their own conclusions All their voices speak to me in symphonic cannon with the unvarying idea that pure love thrives in letting go of the things we want to possess Only when the object of our desires, be it the beloved person, a professional career, an idealized obsession or the inspiration to write, is released from selfish need will it open its locked gateways freely and show us the pathway to fulfillment But that is not the only song I hear, for raising above the melody, I distinclty discern Byatt s contralto singing the only truth that not even rigorous scholarship can claim to possess That after passion is spent, heartache subdued and disappointments diluted in the sea of memories, that long after the stillborn happiness has burnt out in the arson of irreconcilable pasts, dead words will be rekindled from the ashes with every new reading, Phoenix like And bygone lives will be infused with the spark of new beginnings, for their essence will be preserved in the artistic creations writers sent sailing the tides of time to reach shores still to be read and mornings that smell of brine to wake up to Never to be fully possessed, but forever adoredIn the morning, the whole world had a strange new smell It was the smell of the aftermath, a green smell, a smell of shredded leaves and oozing resin, of crushed wood and splashed sap, a tart smell, which bore some relation to the smell of bitten apples It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful .FREE PDF ♊ Possession ☪ 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 S Ances To The Fairy Haunted Far West Of Brittany What Emerges Is An Extraordinary Counterpoint Of Passions And IdeasMan Booker Prize Winner Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1990.Giving this book 5 stars was not ever in doubt for me This is one of the most remarkable books I ve ever read I m a romantic, I admit I love art and art history I love good historical fiction But all that combined still does not make a good book A.S Byatt pulls all this together with the most important aspect of any book, great writing But she adds something else also, something that s hard to put your finger on, a uniqueness, an edge, if you will, that puts this work in a class of it s own It s a modern classic, without doubt, and it s worthy of all it s awards and praise. Like many biographies this was as much about its author as its subject. AS Byatt has characters describing biography as a form of religion a form of ancestor worship She is a novelist who loves the academic approach to biography, applied to fiction and semi fiction, creating po mo metafiction that is rich in texture and research, but which can be a little hard for mortals to digest There are two main timelines here a pair of Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, loosely based on Browning Tennyson and Christina Rossetti, respectively , and various modern academics who specialise in either RHA or LaMotte principally Roland Michell and Maud Bailey When a connection between the two Victorians is discovered, professional rivalry and collaboration are at odds in the literary detective story that ensues That opens the possibility of modern romance to parallel the past, culminating in rather ludicrous scenes in Cornwall The Great VentriloquistThat is the title of fictional Mortimer Cropper s famous biography of fictional RHA, described in the quote at the top , but it applies to Byatt, too The stories unfold in an impressive variety of documents and genres, from different periods epic poems, diaries, letters, lists, and There are also references to real authors, including Emily Dickinson and Willa Cather.But it alternates between being too self consciously clever all those unique writing styles, with the historical poems hiding clues to secrets of the past as well as triggering ripples in the modern story and too predictable plotwise, propped up by stereotyped characters and clich d situations And as well as the layers of fictional biography, and wondering who is speaking on whose behalf, literal ventriloquism is a recurring theme, there is a seance, and there is even po mo musing in this po mo book, when Roland considers partly with precise postmodernist pleasure, and partly with a real element of superstitious dread, that he and Maud were being driven by a plot or fate that seemed, at least possibly, to be not their plot or fate but that of those others Roland also wonders why novels do not habitually elaborate on the intense pleasure of reading and concludes the regressive nature of the pleasure is to blame Too much In the first chapter, I read this, and empathised His own huge ignorance, a grey mist, in which floated or could be discerned odd glimpses of solid objects, odd bits of glitter of dimes or shadows of roofs in the gloom. For example, those deeply familiar with Victorian literature, and especially Victorian interest in insects and jet mementoes, would gain from this than I managed.Nevertheless, this novel is a brilliant achievement Parts of it are moving, inspiring, thought provoking, and educational And yet there was a disconnect between me and the words The researchers were possessed, but I was not Overall, I found to admire than to love But I suspect the failing is mine than Byatt s.How Does Byatt Categorise Herself The quote at the top of this review is true of this novel, as well as the fictional biography it is describing Cropper s one of RHA But what does Byatt think of herself and her works, I wonder She wrote in RHA s letter to LaMotte The difference between poets and novelists is this that the former write for the life of the language and the latter write for the betterment of the world. Here, Byatt proves she is both.Thoughts on Possession and LoveAfter writing my review, I turned to those of friends In her excellent review here , Dolors asks Does love inevitably imply possession That is a huge and profound question, deserving deep thought My initial reaction is that people often say that love implies possession, whereas I think the two are mutually exclusive The possession of love does not, or should not, limit the freedom of the subject of that love Uncertainty can change everything, and that s where fear can make one or both cling, so that love risks becoming controlling than liberating The very next day, a blog I subscribe to cited Kahil Gibran s famous lines in a piece about finding the balance between independence and intimacy in long term relationships Love one another but make not a bond of love let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.Quotes about Fabric, Decor, and DressA Byatt trademark He wore a long black silk dressing gown, with crimson revers, over black silk pyjamas, crimson piped, with a monogram on his breast pocket His slippers, mole black velvet, were embroidered in gold thread with a female head surrounded by shooting rays or shaken hair The stained glass worked to defamiliarise her It divided her into cold, brightly coloured fires The green silk of her scarf glittered with turreted purple ridges Dust danced in a shadowy halo round her shifting head, black motes in straw gold, invisible solid matter appearing like pinholes in a sheet of solid color Leonora was resplendent and barbaric in a scarlet silk shirt and trousers, faintly Oriental, faintly Peruvian, with woven rainbow coloured borders Prettily sprigged curtains hung on carved wooden rings from a brass rail Inside the front window a maidenhair fern stood in a large Minton pot On the front door, painted a deep Delft blue, hung a sinuous brass dolphin door knocker There were buds on the roses and a sea of forget me nots at their feet There was a frieze of bricks with moulded sunflowers between storeys Every brick breathed fresh air each had been stripped and drenched with blow torch and high speed jet, so that the house lay revealed beneath its original skin The bathroom tiled floor was a greyish violet With little bunches of ghostly Madonna lilies they were of Italian design on certain tiles, not all These tiles extended halfway up the walls, where they met a paisley vinyl paper crawling with busy suckered globules, octopods, sea slugs, in very bright purple and pink There were toning ceramic fitments, in dusty pink pottery, a lavatory paper holder, a tissue holder, a toothmug on a plate like those huge African lip decorations, a scallop shell holding pristine ovoids of purple and pink soap Other Quotes Victorian dust, a dust composed of smoke and fog particles accumulated before the Clean Air Acts She was dressed with unusual coherence for an academic Letters are a form of narrative that envisages no outcome, no closure Letters tell no story, because they do not know, from line to line, where they are going Letters, finally, exclude not only the reader as co writer, or predictor, or guesser, but they exclude the reader as a reader, they are written, if they are true letters, for a reader Cold air seemed to pour down the stone steps like silky snow She held his time, she contained his past and his future Leonora was a kind of verbal Cleopatra, creating appetite where most she satisfied All stories will bear telling and telling again in different ways What is required is to keep alive, to polish And yet to add something of yours, of the writer, which makes all these things seem new In Romance, women s two natures can be reconciled enchantresses and demons or innocent angels Byatt s Novels of Biographers and other related booksAll four Byatt novels I ve read are layers of fictional biography, executed with varying degrees of success a writer writing about writers writing The Children s Book, 4 See my review HERE.Possession, 3 This book.The Biographer s Tale, 2 See my very old review HERE.Even her myth based Ragnarok, 4 , is related, as it s interwoven with the life of a child who is largely her See my review HERE.I ve also read some of her short stories, most recently, The Little Black Book of Stories See my review HERE Another novel of similar themes to this, also 3 for me, is Sarah Perry s The Essex Serpent See my review HERE.Word PlayThese, I mostly like Ash the poet , lots of dust and ashes, and researchers in the basement of the BM, aka The Ash Factory Possession in many forms, literal and metaphorical Medusa, mermaids, and serpents LaMotte, motte as in motte and bailey castle and motes of dust Blanche Glover LaMotte s companion and gloves.Gloves lie togetherLimp and calmFinger to fingerPalm to palmWith whitest tissueTo embalmIn these quiet casesWhite hands creepWith supple stretchingsOut of sleepFingers clasp fingersTroth to kee C LaMotteClich AlertThis may seem petty, but I was so swamped by how many and how often they cropped up that I want a list for future reference StereotypesThere s nothing inherently wrong or inaccurate about any of these, but I felt they were overdone Rich, brash Americans Feminists, lesbians, and bisexual women Socially awkward academics.SituationsMost of these were borderline comedy that felt out of place A creepy country house needing repairs Snowed in, in a remote place Car chases Near misses Convenient coincidences, essential to make the plot join up Digging up a grave at night Caught in a storm Legal small print An antagonistic pair who fall in love very Mills Boon. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog Want to see my book reportCalvin Hobbes Bill Watterson Indeed, Calvin You speak the truth And thanks to slogging through a sample portion of that intimidating impenetrable fog known as Possession, I ve learned an important lesson Lend me your ears, gentle reader I m about to whisper another truth that s been missing from your day to day literary drudgery.A.S Byatt is smart Oh, yes A.S Byatt is smart, she wants everyone to know it If the world refuses to listen, she ll wedge the truth into our ears with a handful of steel plated swabs I suspect Possession isn t a novel so much as an intellectual mercy killing, as she s taken it upon herself to correct the error of our feeble dreams i.e., that the common masses have received an education sufficient to understand the higher thinking of Literature Nothing culls the herd quite like an intimidating capital letter, right After suffering through the entirety of another impenetrable Byatt fog Angels Insects , I d guessed myself prepared for the onslaught But no There was zero chance of harmonious discourse between my inferior brain the superior Literature of Possession. It s the simple result of a simple equation I failed to appreciate that A.S Byatt is smart, therefore I failed to appreciate why I should give a rat s ass about these fictional academic blowhards their bloated, self indulgent dialogues But perhaps the failure isn t all my fault A.S Byatt is smart, remember My undergrad level education leisure reading hobbies are but a minor blip what hope did I have to appreciate Literature that proposes to celebrate the written word Victorian culture Call me a fool, gentle reader But even after failing to meld with Possession, I m gripped by the most ignorant of blind faiths I believe my wounded pride shall recover Surely those of lesser intellectual proportions can aspire to greatness even yours truly as she tosses turns through another sleepless night, weeping salty tears of ignorance into a soggy, mildewed pillow.Yes, it s true A.S Byatt is smart That s the beginning, the middle, the endso please excuse me while I post Possession on Paperback Swap Maybe I can trade it for something I ll actually enjoy reading.