Guys, I think I have a new favorite author, and I’m very late to the game. A while ago I was gifted a copy of Possession: A Romance, by A.S. Byatt, and strangely enough, I’d never heard of it even though there was a movie adaptation in the early 2000s and the book itself won the Booker Prize in 1990! This past month I finally read it, and it’s easily one the best books I’ve ever read.
Possession is the story of two English literary scholars in the mid 80s, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, who meet and discover the untold, secret story of the love affair of two Victorian poets. Roland and Maud are each experts on the lives and works of Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, two Victorian poets who no one ever knew even met, let alone had a secret and tumultuous love affair. As Roland and Maud embark on this almost archaeological discovery, they also learn more about each other, their pasts, their anxieties, fears, flaws, and desires. It’s a love story told two ways: in the past and in the present.
But what makes it more unique is the way the main narrative is interspersed with pages-long poetry “written” by Ash and LaMotte. In this way, the reader also becomes the detective, searching the poetry for extra clues, a more nuanced understanding of the dual plots, and piecing together the myriad themes of the novel. It’s breathtaking the amount of work A.S. Byatt put into this novel, and it’s one of those books that seem born, not made.
I felt rocketed along at all turns by the sheer breadth and the passion of this novel, even though it’s meticulously researched and almost scholarly in tone. It’s not a traditional romance the way you’d think about it—it’s more like an amalgamation of epic, historical fiction novel, literary critique, whodunnit, postmodern fiction, and romance! It’s a little bit of everything, and it’s practically flawless.
“They took to silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm. An ankle overlapping an ankle, as they sat on a beach, and not removed. One night they fell asleep, side by side… He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.”
Absolutely gorgeous! This is one book that has skyrocketed to the status of favorite books ever, and one that I will definitely read multiple times, just to understand it better. Amazing!
I’m also currently reading another of A.S. Byatt’s epic novels, The Children’s Book, and loving it!