Possession: a Romance by A.S. Byatt


I listened to this Man Booker Prize winning 550 pager published in 1990 that was recommended to me by Sue.  And loved it.

A.S. Byatt creates the world of two Victorian poets, their friends and loved ones, their poetry, and the dramatic story of their connection.  The secrets of their romance were uncovered for us by a disparate group of scholars with competing interests who each have a piece of the puzzle.

The Victorians are Randolph Henry Ash, a (fictional) well known poet whose life and works are much studied in the "Ash Factory," presided over by James Blackadder. The other poet is Christabel LaMotte, an obscure poet, beloved of feminist scholars. A nebbishy scholar working in the factory finds two drafts of a letter from Ash to LaMotte never seen by scholars before and the games begin.  The denoument is the dramatic moment after a grave has been dug up in the dark of night, just before a storm hits that traps the grave robber among fallen trees. 

There is an element of pointing out how ridiculous the scholars are:  Blackadder, for pity's sake.  Then there's the real villain, Mortimer Cropper, an American from New Mexico who will stop at nothing to acquire every scrap of paper relating to Ash for the archive he created.  Eventually, though we come to love them all (except Cropper) and they all have their lovely moments.  

These shenanigans are elevated to a great work by the poetry and tangential stories Byatt creates.  And of course the artful telling of the poets' love story as each of the puzzle pieces falls into place is thrilling to watch. Among the variety of voices telling the story is the journal from the 1860s of a young woman in Bretagne who grew up in a castle isolated from the world, the thoughts of Ellen Ash, as her husband the poet is dying, on what to do with the sealed letter sent to him by his beloved, a spiritualist who "brings comfort" to those who want to contact loved ones who have crossed over (this in the poetry of the contemptuous Randolph Ash, and the list could go on.

 I was sad when I finished this book and have found myself listening to it in random spots when I have a moment.  It's that good.




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