Trish started a casual readalong of Possession, I thought, "Why not?" I had it on my shelves for ages, I liked the other books by Byatt I read, and people who loved it LOVED it. What could go wrong?
Here's the story. Roland, a basement dweller of the British Museum who does grunt work for his boss Blackadder, discovers a couple of letters by a famous (fake) Victorian poet named Randolph H Ash to an unknown lady. Roland suspects that this lady friend might be important, as Ash was a married poet and wasn't known to have any lovers. After digging around, he has a hunch that the lady maybe a feminist poet, Christabel LaMotte (also fake).
Roland doesn't have a lot going for him. He works in a dank hole of a room that smells of cat piss. He goes home to his apartment that also smells of cat piss to get the cold shoulder from his girlfriend Val. Val and Roland live in a misery-loves-company situation that neither one has the balls to leave. It's depressing as hell.
Maud is unimpressed by Roland. She's not impressed by much, actually. She has the hardship of being extremely attractive, rich, and intelligent. What a burden. One time, this other scholar and former lover Fergus told her she had nice hair. It was so upsetting, she now wears it under a scarf. She doesn't like men, although she doesn't like women either, or being touched, or thought about, or anything.
If this was a Dan Brown novel, this would be the part where Roland and Maud would be locked in dungeons by albino priests but instead they read a lot of letters, and biographies, and journals, and long ass poems. They read between the lines of everything ever written by or about the poets, glomming onto anything that hints at the idea that these two were hooking up on the down low.
Meanwhile, all the other Ash/LaMotte scholars (so, like, 5 people), get a whiff of what Roland and Maud are up to and they want in. Sir George himself learns about how much the letters might be worth and he wants a cut. It's such a madcap caper! (No, it isn't.)
Possession is not an easy book. The characters are so angsty and the academic stuff is way over my head. I admit to skimming through the letters and poems, etc. I just couldn't concentrate. I appreciate what Byatt did here. She created a whole complicated backstory for these poets, including pages and pages of poetry, fake biographies, fake footnotes for God's sake! This was a huge undertaking. However, I'm not that into poetry, especially long Victorian poetry, and even less thrilled by biographies for fake poets. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my jam.
|What I kept telling myself.|
Once I got past the academic stuff, which left about 150 pages, I was good. A Big Secret is revealed. Some of the secondary characters shake the dust off themselves and get involved which forces Roland and Maud to move this plot along a little. If not for their involvement, these two would have just kept strolling through Yorkshire and France glancing awkwardly at one another while not thinking about all the sex they're not having.
In the end, I was happy to have read Possession. I feel like I sort of accomplished something, if I ignore all my skipping of the poems.* The ending is bittersweet and I almost got choked up (almost).
So, if you love long poems and academic blah-blah-blah, you'll LOVE Possession. If you don't, well, you'll just feel smarter for reading it. It won the Booker Prize, you know.
*I know someone is going to say, "But the poems are important!" to which I say, "Sorry, not to me."