Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Possession, by A.S. Byatt

The final novel from The Well-Educated Mind list is Possession, by A.S. Byatt.   I started reading it in May, but then I stopped because, eight chapters in, I was still disinterested in the plot.  

My book cover
Then Tonia @ The Sunny Patch told me that she was going to begin Possession within a week, and therefore, I committed to finishing it. 

In the end, the overall idea is unique, and the writing is to be commended.  But I think it is the mechanics - which makes the work distinct - that bothered me. 

For example, I am not fluent in poetry, so when I had to read verses in the middle of the story, and make sense of it, I was lost. And while I usually like reading journals or diaries, I did not care to read so much correspondence between characters.

Ironically, one of my favorite passages is this:
In his day, he said, students were grounded in spelling and had learned poetry and the Bible by heart.  An odd phrase, "by heart," he would add, as though poems were stored in the bloodstream."
Chapter fifteen is actually my favorite chapter - which probably says more about me than it does the book.  I would call it the heart of the story, literally and figuratively.  

If you are fond of poetry, Possession is laden with verses throughout; and there are references to Greek mythology, classic literature, authors, and poets everywhere.  If you like mysteries wrapped in love stories; enjoy following multiple stories simultaneously; and do not mind epistolary novels, you just may appreciate this novel.  In fact, I know you will.  I think most people can get into it, but I regret that I could not.  Maybe I will consider rereading it in the very distant future (after I learn how to read poetry), while probably I will check out the film version even sooner.


Unknown said...

I had the same difficulty with the book. I'd just start getting into the story and then I had to read a long poem. Poetry is not my thing but I found that when I forced myself to slow down and read those passages I enjoyed them. I have to give the author kudos for her work - to write the novel and all the poetry - that's impressive. Chap. 15 is def. the heart of the book.

As an adventure story I think it's successful. Here's a down-on-his-luck academic who finds a rough draft of a letter and goes on a quest to find the truth.

Do you think you'll read anything else by Byatt now that you've finished Possession?

Jean said...

Congratulations! Now you never have to read Byatt again. I'm ambivalent about her myself, and in fact just gave up on Still Life. Couldn't do it. Secret pro tip: you don't actually have to read the poetry. ;)

Ruth said...

So you thought so, too, about chapter 15? It's when my interest peaked, but then it was gone again.

Yep, poetry is not my thing either, but it was impressive to come up with such a creative plot.

At this time, I do not see myself looking into other works by A.S. Byatt. However, I am keeping this copy of Possession b/c it is possible that I may want to try it again many, many years from now.

P.S. Do you think you'll see the film version, starring Gwyneth Paltrow?

Ruth said...

I'm laughing b/c eventually I started to speed read through the poetry and correspondence, to the point of skipping over it altogether. I did not like it at all. I think reading and understanding the poetry and correspondence would have helped put the reader into the mood of the characters; but I was only frustrated and lost. So that didn't help my experience any.

Jillian said...

You won't like The Mysteries of Udolpho if you dislike poetic interruption. That one is filled with it! :)

Ruth said...

Yeah, one of my reasons for reading through the WEM is to learn how to read poetry. It is the very end of the book, so it will be years before I get to it, and I am glad. I am hoping for a transformation, and then maybe I'll be able to tackle Possession again and this one you mention. It's not too terrible, but I want to be able to enjoy it.

Unknown said...

I probably will at some point - I'll have to see if it's on Netflix or check the library.