Possession

1990 WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

Possession by A S Byatt is on my top-ten list, right under Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby and The Count of Monte Cristo (which I love for completely irrational reasons). Byatt is truly an artist with words. I was mesmerized by the sheer complexity of the novel, the characters, the fairytales (esp. the Glass Coffin), the letters, the poems… I have to agree that some parts were tedious, particularly the correspondence between LaMotte and Ash, but the prose was incredibly poetic and well-written. I am not even sure why I love this novel so much; I was never much one for logic.

Perhaps it was Byatt’s description of characters through their bathrooms. I found it particularly amusing. Maud Bailey’s bathroom is a cold, glittering place, which of course reflects her personality:

He moved gingerly inside the bathroom, which was not a place to sit and read or to lie and soak, but a chill green glassy place, glittering with cleanness, huge dark green stoppered jars on water-green thick glass shelves… Not a speck of talcum powder, not a smear of soap, on any surface…He thought of his home bathroom, full of old underwear, open pots of eyepaint, dangling shirts and stockings, sticky bottles of hair conditioner, and tubes of shaving foam.

The imagery is so beautiful, and whimsical –

The sea wove amber-sandy lights in its grey-green. The air was milk-warm and smelled of salt, and warm sand, and distinct sharp leaves, heather or juniper or pine.

I think that this book thoroughly deserved the Booker Prize, and look forward to reading more of Byatt’s works in the future. I have, on my bookshelf, a little book called The Djinn in the Nightingale, a small collection of fairytales by her. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but will do soon. After I get through all the others on my lists.

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4 thoughts on “Possession

  1. It’s a wonderful book. I’d gladly recommend to anyone who loves fairytales, quintessentially British characters, and Victorian poetry. I think the most amazing thing is that the entire thing is fiction, even the poems ‘written’ by Ash and Lamotte. I actually Wikipedia’d ‘Randolf Henry Ash’ before discovering that he was fictional.

  2. Ha! I wondered the same thing about Ash and Lamotte when I read this–I couldn’t figure out how I missed them. My coblogger, Jenny, just read and reviewed the Djinn, and she liked it a lot. Alas, the only other Byatt I’ve read is The Biographer’s Tale, and I wasn’t impressed. Possession is a keeper, though. I love it!

  3. Hm, I nearly always include A S Byatt as “one of my favourite authors”, but Possession is the only novel of her’s that I’ve read! I also liked the Djinn very much, so I suppose it’s not a completely invalid statement…

    And well, if her other books are disappointing, I can only say it must be quite hard to keep up the act after winning a Booker :)

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