Sunday, November 13, 2011

Number 20 is Possession by A.S Byatt. I really, really liked my first foray into Byatt's novels (The Children's Book), so I thought I'd give her 1990 Booker Prize winner a shot.

It's a complicated piece of work with multiple narratives and authors. Ostensibly, the 'hero' of the book is Roland Mitchell, a bit of a sad-sack scholar, an expert (but not THE expert) on a fictional Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. One day Roland is going through a pretty much ignored collection of Ash's mundane papers (bills and such), and comes across the draft of a letter that points at something unknown before now; that Ash may have had a relationship outside of his marriage.

And so begins the literary mystery that is the heart of this novel. Mitchell sleuths out the identity of Ash's lover, another poet named Christabel Lamotte, and with the help of a Lamotte scholar, Maude Bailey, they find a packet of letters between the two poets and unfold a hidden love story.

This book isn't as easy a read as The Children's Book was as the narrative shifts from Roland and Maude to the letters between Ash and Lamotte and includes their poetry as well. I can certainly appreciate Byatt's artistry here as she does an excellent job in writing as two separate Victorian characters, both their private correspondence and their published poetry. Of course though, this book has also reminded me that yeah, I'm still not a fan of poetry.

I found though, that because of the letters and the poetry, while we really get invested in the relationship between Ash and Christabel, it leaves the modern characters a bit ... lacking. We're supposed to see progression in the relationship between Roland and Maude as well, but it never seems as natural a thing. Roland still seems to be a spectator in life, and Maude is still only defined by being 'cold'. They started off being defined more as characters, but by the time the Ash/Christabel correspondence is uncovered, the modern characters are given short shrift as their entire raison d'etre is to investigate further into the lives of the two Victorian poets.

All that being said though, I found the ending actually a little sad, so obviously some of Byatt's characters did resonate with me.