In addition to mysteries and science writing, I am also easily won by books about scholarship, research, occult books, and academia. One of my long-time favorites in this category is A. S. Byatt’s luminous novel Possession. Probably her best known work, Possession explores romance, scholarship, and literary detection in elegant language.
As in many of Byatt’s stories, Possession features a complex plot that moves both between multiple storylines and alternating time periods. Byatt relates parallel stories. The first involves two contemporary literary scholars, and the second two nineteenth century poets whom the modern scholars are studying. As their research progresses, the modern scholars bring to light an undiscovered relationship between the poets. At the same time their shared research interests spark a relationship between the scholars.
Byatt moves easily between the present and the late nineteenth century, and she has a gifted ear for dialog and language of both periods. Of added interest are the forays away from the standard narrative form. Byatt creates letters, poetry, and journal entries in the voices of her various characters. These more personal sections help create completely believable characters. Byatt’s writing frequently explores the challenges and difficulties of relationships between her characters. She is clear-eyed and fearless in her depiction of both the pleasures and the possibilities of deep sadness that we open ourselves up to when we fall in love.
Possession will appeal to a wide range of readers. Anyone who loves clear, thoughtful prose will delight in Byatt’s style. Readers interested in literary scholarship or poetry will find Byatt an able guide to those fields. And those looking for a moving examination of the human condition will be amply rewarded.
Check the WRL catalog for Possession