Possession: a romance by AS Byatt #booker

It is done. I have finally finished Possession. It has taken some
willpower to get through it – just like The Children’s Book did. I
shan’t be inclined to pick up a Byatt again willingly!

In Possession, we follow two academic authorities on two nineteenth
century poets (Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte) as they
uncover evidence that links the two poets and search to find more
pieces of the puzzle.

The book is full of potential, but seems to be too ambitious, or
rather, too sprawling. It isn’t the length I mind – I read Lord of the
Rings on an almost annual basis, and I steamed through Wolf Hall. It’s
more that the story seems so fragmented. There’s a page about thirty
from the end in which one of Byatt’s characters outlines the
through-line of the narrative to other characters, which serves to
highlight just how meandering a story Possession is (in the way that
it deviates from this through line). But it isn’t this somewhat
short-sighted approach that I find really irksome.

The real problem is the tone – Byatt writes much of Possession as
though it is an academic paper. Granted, academics are, to an extent,
the subject matter, but it feels like Byatt actually wants to write
the papers that explore liminaity, gender politics, and so on. The
novel seems like a vehicle for covertly expounding some theories and
playing with some very academic notions, but it isn’t engaging.
Moreover, it is at odds with the story, which is more fantasy than
reality – something Byatt seems to excuse by calling it a romance. The
strange, neat, happy ending ‘adventure’ of the story jars with the
sophistication of the intellectual discourse – give me either, and I
can judge it and be satiated – give me both, and I’ll just be
irritated.
Having now forced myself through two of her novels, I think I can
safely say that Byatt isn’t for me. Instead of heart, her novels have
a sledgehammer of an intellect.

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