Monday 18 April 2011

Byatt, A.S. "Possession"

Byatt, A.S. "Possession" - 1990

Possession is a great book. I love it. There are two stories playing at the same time. Roland Mitchell, an American researcher at a London university, tries to find information about the fictitious Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. This leads him to Maud Bailey, a professor at Lincoln University who is an expert on another fictitious Victorian poet, Christabel LaMotte. While they discover a common past of the two poets and unfold a mystery, their lives begin to take on a turn parallel to that of the two poets.

The different chapters always start with a poem written by one of the two poets. When I read the book for the first time, I just left them out, I'm not a big poetry lover. However, when I read it again, I concentrated on them because they add a lot to the story.

I love classic novels and although this isn't one, it reads like one. Plus there is the time the two poets lived in that gives you the feeling of being in a classic book. Did I say I love it?

There is also a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as the contemporary and Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam as the Victorian characters, I am often disappointed about movies made of my favourite books but this one is just as interesting as the novel.

I have read this book about half a dozen times and my paperback is falling to pieces. So I have decided that I need another copy - something I hardly ever do.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2024.

A.S. Byatt won the Booker Prize for "Possession" in 1990.

From the back cover:

"Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once a literary detective novel and a triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars investigating the lives of two Victorian poets. Following a trail of letters, journals and poems they uncover a web of passion, deceit and tragedy, and their quest becomes a battle against time."

In the meantime, I have also read "Ragnarok. The End of the Gods" by A.S. Byatt. I did not enjoy it as much as this one.


  1. Momo, I love the Poem "Ask and Embla". It's one of the few poems I memorised.

    If I may quote from a fascinating article in the
      "Do people read the verse by Randolph Ash and
      Christabel LaMotte that AS Byatt has supplied with her
      novel? Many proudly admit not ... Certainly the
      novelist has taken an odd sort of gamble with her
      pastiches ... as the poetry has no obvious narrative
      function, except to serve as a kind of authentication
      device, hints at a larger imagined world ... Byatt's
      pastiches are emphatically not wonderful poetry, yet
      display considerable technical skill (how many
      academic critics could produce such things?) and
      function as a kind of homage to the poetry she
            -- John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College

  2. Kitty,
    I haven't memorized any of the poems, I'm not really a poetry person. I read this book several times (even with several book clubs) and a lot of people said they didn't read the poems. Well, the first time I just had a glance, the second time, I read a few and the third time I read them all. I just love this book.