Saturday, 25 February 2012

Book Review - Possession, by A.S. Byatt

This Booker Prize-winner has been sitting on my shelf since third or perhaps fourth year uni, when I enrolled in a particular English subject, bought the books and then was forced to change subjects when one of my Science lectures moved. So a few of the books on my 101 Things list are from that subject, including Homer's Odyssey (I never know if I spell that correctly) and Sebald's (???) Rings of Saturn.

I think the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow was on the cover, apparently in the throes of passion, really turned me off. I'm not a big fan of ol' Gwyneth, and I'm not entirely sure why... but I do think she's dumb for calling her kids Apple and Moses... ot maybe it's that pathetic, helpless expression she gets that really irks me. Anyway, apparently I DO judge a book by its cover!

Wiki always explains it better, but the book starts off with Roland, an English literary scholar finding an apparently previously-unseen draft of what appears to be a love letter inside a copy of a book that had once belonged to the (fictional) 19th-century poet, Randolph Henry Ash, who wrote said book. Roland realises what a significant find this letter is, because the poet had been happily married for many years and something like this could completely alter the interpretation of the poet's works. He decides to keep his find as close to his chest as possible until he has chased down the mystery, and, when he discovers who the letter was written to (a fellow-poet, Christabelle LaMotte), is forced to appeal to Maude, a LaMotte scholar, to aid him in his quest to find out what really happened between LaMotte and Ash.

Perhaps predictably, things very slowly heat up between Roland and Maude as they trace the progression of the relationship between Ash and LaMotte. It took me quite a while to get into the large slabs of poetry, but once some context was provided to what was going on in their lives and I felt sure of a reward, I found myself drawn into the poetry, trying to decipher it. By the time the Ash/LaMotte affair was full-blown I was utterly hooked, and the novel ends with a delightfully geeky showdown in what is essentially an unlikely collection of scholars taking the law into their own hands in order to protect Ash's grave from American collectors, determined to obtain some Ash relics at any cost.

It'll take you a while to get through, but I highly recommend Possession, preferably to be read in winter, snuggled up in bed.

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