Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Possession: A Romance

For the past ten days I've been immersed in this 1990 Booker Prize-Winning novel, by A.S. Byatt.
<-- Possession.
Just finished it, minutes ago -- and I shall now add it to my list of Books I Read That No Other Man on Earth Would Read.
The subtitle alone [A Romance] surely disqualifies it from any male-owned library shelf on this, or any other planet. And I'll admit, [as a colleague at work pointed out to me] even the cover of the book looks a bit light on the loafers! He said to me, in a noticeable tone of concern, "Umm, it looks rather effeminate."
I really enjoyed the book. I think it's superb, on many levels.
So, what does that say about me?
I think it says that I appreciate good literature, no matter what sort of appearance the book may have.
Or, perhaps I am possibly…….. no, never mind.
But enough about me! Let me say a few words about Possession.

While researching the [fictional] Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, modern day [1987] scholar Roland Michell happens upon some obscure snippets of amorous undelivered correspondence. Curiosity leads him to suspect that these scandalous amorations [<-- this should be a word, but isn't] were meant for Christabel LaMotte, a contemporary poet of the day. Michell consults with several LaMotte experts to cross-reference his own data, and foremost among these is the lovely Dr. Maud Bailey. Together, these two begin to unravel a seemingly endless trail of previously unknown intrigue -- they unearth a biographer's treasure-trove of documents, and as they pursue information about this century-old romance, other scholars emerge from their dusty hallways -- fighting for their own right to scoop the story. Does this sound exciting as all hell? If it doesn't [and it shouldn't, really] it's because it isn't.
The power of this book does not lie in anything dazzling or spectacular.
No cliff-hanging. Or even sex, really.
But for brilliance and depth, this book cannot be beat. It's a novel for people that love when a writer is writing so well, so intricately, that you know the gist of the tale will live with you forever.
In a way, it will possess you. The power lies in the vividness of the characterizations.
The author has done something that, in my experience with reading, I have never seen before. She has created a literature beyond her own novel. She has not only created the characters of of Ash and LaMotte, but also has managed to compose their works for us. [Essentially] books, within a book. Their poetry, their writings are here in Possession, and in such a real way that early on I looked these characters up on Wikipedia, because I thought they must be real personages.
But they aren't. They're Byatt's creations.
It's a gorgeous novel -- which I know shall remain for me in a category labelled "Timeless."

So, what's next on deck for me to read? Well, I already have it in my backpack to take to work with me tomorrow. As you can see by observing my "Currently Reading" sidebar, it's an equally masculine-entitled tome!
And if you'll excuse me, [the timer is "dinging"] -- I've got a late-night quiche that's ready to come out of the oven…



CJ Garwood said...

You never fail to make me laugh!

I'm a red-blooded married (to a woman) man and sometimes I wonder if I'm the only male reading some of the girly books I choose, so it's good to see I am not alone! I haven't read 'Possession' but read Byatt's 'The Children's Book' last year and loved it.

I'm currently reading 'Middlesex', all about a Greek-American hermaphrodite, and am really enjoying it. Next up is some Jane Austen! Might soon have to borrow a Tom Clancy or something of that ilk from my dad's bookshelf to up the testosterone levels (hmm, maybe not).

When it comes down to it, who really cares who a book is by, what it's about or what the target audience is supposed to be (something I suspect the people marketing it care more about than the actual author), so long as the book is GOOD.

Alyce said...

I've known for a while that I've wanted to read this book, and I already have it on my shelf. I must make time for it soon.

Stefanie said...

Glad you enjoyed Possession. It's a good one. And I don't think it's a girly book. "Romance" in this case is not used as in romantic love romance, even though there is that in the novel, but in the old-fashioned literary sense of a romance. Here's a broad definition compliments of a literary terms database:

Romance: A broad term, usually denoting a narrative with exotic, exaggerated, often idealized characters, scenes, and themes.
Nathaniel Hawthorne called his The House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun romances in order to distinguish them from clearly realistic works.

Cipriano said...

Thank you for this moral support, friends.

CJ -- has anyone ever mentioned to you that you have an UNCANNY resemblance to Kermit the Frog?
Yes, you and I -- it seems that we are due for some Robert Ludlum or something!
Then again -- I'd rather read The Children's Book.

Stefanie, thank you for this clarification of the word romance -- and you read Possession so you know, you know that it is so very good. Byatt is truly a great fix for a literary addict!

Alyce -- I encourage you to get possessed with Possession, especially since you already possess it.