Well, Reading Buddies, here we are at our last (at least, for now) wrap-up. How did you like Possession by A.S. Byatt? It seemed, to me, an acceptable way to close out the past year and a half of reading together. I wasn’t totally sold on it at the halfway point, but it won me over in the end.
Beware — as always, spoilers are fair game!
I really didn’t know what to expect going in. I bought a used copy at a library sale because Amanda was quite adamant about her love for it. I can’t say I adored it, but I was, overall, rather impressed.
I must admit, the inclusion of all the correspondence and textual evidence annoyed me at times. I felt like the passages were so long and slow to read. But! I grudgingly appreciated that Byatt gave us all the pieces. She did not, as most writers do, include only a key phrase or two. She constructed an entire body of text on which to base her story, and she revealed that corpus to us pretty completely. So, though I found it slow to read through, I would not have wished it away. I think it’s one of the things that makes Possession stand out.
I was a bit disappointed to realize I was able to guess most of the plot twists and mysteries in advance. I can’t usually do that. I do think a lot of the evidence was there, though. I knew Christabel was talking about Blanche, not the child, when Ash disrupted the seance. I knew her child was alive and had a hunch one of the prominent characters would turn out to be a descendant of him/her. That sort of thing. I wonder, though, if part of the characters’ slowness to realize these things was perhaps because of their proximity to the people involved. They were so intimately familiar with their respective poets, so steeped in the accepted “facts,” that they were slower to see the errors and truths than the reader.
I liked how we didn’t hear the end of the contemporary story. What did Roland decide? Did Maud get the papers? Where did the papers end up? What happened to Cropper? I realized, as I finished the book, that it wasn’t about them. We got a touch of closure with Roland and Maud’s relationship, but that was it. And I think that’s fine.
I also very much enjoyed how LaMotte and Ash grew from stiff, lifeless historical figures under careful academic study into intricate human beings, alive and complicated and flawed. What is so cool is that Byatt achieved this effect almost exclusively through the use of letters and poems. The poets themselves — and other characters, like Ellen — are almost never seen first-hand by the reader, and yet they come so gloriously to life.
Which brings me to my central question: Why did Byatt include those few scenes set during the poets’ lifetimes? Why did the reader get this glimpse of truth when the characters themselves did not? I’m not sure I liked those parts. I think I would have preferred to get the story along with the characters, to leave the gaps empty or have them filled in, at least partially, by other textual evidence. Am I the only one who feels that way?
So! Overall, really glad I finally read this one. I hope you are, too. I’ll be honest — it’s made me wonder what other fascinating stories are hidden in correspondence and the like!
If you read along, or if you’ve read Possession in the past, what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
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