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September 17, 2009

A literary investigation assisted by the readers

A. S Byatt: Possession. A romance
(1990.)

This novel was a pleasant surprise. I have seen the movie based on it, so, the story wasn’t new for me. But the book! The different style of texts: poems, diaries, letters, etc. Reading this book was a really great adventure.

The story is about a “literary investigation”, about (re)discovering the life and work of two (fictional) Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. People living in the 20. century belive they know everything about both persons, they are very self-confident how to interpret the works of them, till one day a young scholar discovers handwritten drafts of a letter by Ash, and he starts to investigate. He wants to keep this secret for himself, he don’t like the working style of his colleagues, but he is forced to share this secret with Maud Bailey, a feminist Christabel LaMotte- scholar.

Sometimes it reminds me of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (of the movie and not the book), because of the parallel story of the two poets in the 19. Century and the story of the two scholars in the late 20. Century. Two love stories, actually.

The reader can follow the researching through the reading of the several letters the quotes from diaries and the quotes from studies of other scholars. (All these texts are of course written by A. S. Byatt).

Of course, the colleagues learn that some great discovery is being prepared, and they want to take part in the great success of the news: the two poets had actually a perfectly different life than it was known.

I really enjoyed the parodies of the different scholar types, my favourite was Beatrice Nest, who's thoughts no one takes seriously, even though the reader knows she's right in some things about Ash's wife.

The book has a double happy end. First the protagonists end their investigation with a great success. They may think they have solved all the secrets, but the reader can learn in the last chapter something, which the scholars never will. That’s why some reviewers say about the book it’s not fit for the label “historiogrphic metafiction”, because there is a classic omnipotent third person narrator, who share informations with the readers very self-confidently.

But on the other hand it’s still a typically postmodern fiction. Not only because the fictional poets and their fictional works, and the different interpretations, but through the option, we can form the own opinion about the important texts in the book, and compare with the interpretations by the characters. Which makes the reading more exciting.

(this post was written for The Decades Challenge '09)

6 megjegyzés:

Marie said...

I loved Possession- it's actually my favorite all-time novel. Thanks for the great review. The movie is okay but the book is just a treasure. So glad you liked it. I love the surprises, and that last one is just heartbreaking.

BTW, I mentioned you on my blog today as one of my favorites. I'm hoping you'll get some new readers!

Diane said...

I just found your blog thanks to Marie; it;s great. I have this book, and after reading your review, i must read it soon. Excellent review. I'll be back to visit!

Oh said...

So glad to see you write about this book! I had it on my shelf for ages, then one day began reading it. It was not that compelling to begin with but oh my! what a book it turned out to be. One of my favorites.

Interesting that you compare it to FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. Yes, the double-story thing...you're right!

I do recommend this book especially for readers who have patience...it's British-chatty but yes, sublime.

Anni said...

Thanks for the nice comments.

@Marie, thanks for mentioning my blog, that's great, and gives the motivation trying to write more frequently.

@Diane, thank you visiting my blog

@Oh, yes it's the double story, why I mentioned it, but on the other hand, there is a little similarity in the books (not in the movies) too by using many-many quotes, except, that Fowles uses real quotes from real works to tell more about the "topic" of his novel, in Byatt's book the quotes are of course fictional

josbookshelf said...

Hi, Anni! I've been hearing about A.S. Byatt and your review praises this author too. It think it's about high time I include him in my buying list. :) Is this his best novel or can you recommend something better?

Btw, your blog is quite interesting. Hope we can exchange links. Putting you in my blogroll now. :)

Anni said...

Welcome!
Actually, she and not he: Antonia Susan Byatt. A female writer.
But unfortunately I've read only this book by her. So, I can't help you in this question.

BTW, your link is on the sidebar!;)

 
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