Whenever I think about Possession by AS Byatt, I think about how many people have told me that this book is their favorite. Then I think about all of the times I have cracked the spine and tried to make it my favorite book. That’s why I wanted to do this readalong with Kim, because I have tried to read this book so many times and so many readers I trust can’t be wrong!
And this time, I really felt like I understood why people love this book. The beginning is still difficult to get through. The first 40 pages or so, I was painfully aware that I was reading. I couldn’t get lost in the story without seeing exactly what Byatt was trying to do. It felt forced. Eventually, though, I got caught up in Roland and Maud’s quest to find out if Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte were in love.
When I wasn’t struggling with Byatt’s prose and how it sometimes felt forced, I was in awe of it. She has created such a complex narrative here, with fictional poets, who have fictional biographies, and the scholars who are fascinated by them. When it works, it’s amazing. In the first six chapters, we meet Roland, a Randolph Henry Ash scholar who has made an unusual discovery: an unfinished letter that the poet wrote to Christabel LaMotte, a somewhat obscure poet from the same time period revered by feminists for her unusual style and ambiguous tales. He visits a Christabel LaMotte scholar named Maud and the two of them end up discovering something important about their poets. They know that their scholarship is changed forever.
Roland is involved in a long-term dead-end relationship with a failed scholar he met while getting his PhD. The economy is miserable. His apartment is miserable. Roland is, all around, quite miserable. The discovery of this letter is his chance to make something of himself. While Maud doesn’t seem quite so miserable, not yet anyway, the thought that there is a whole element to LaMotte’s life that she doesn’t know about changes her scholarship and excites her, too.
And that’s where we are, sort of on the cusp of things to come. We know this is a romance, so I suspect that Maud and Roland will follow in the footsteps of their Victorian subjects. We ended this with a chapter that focuses mainly on Mortimer Cropper, the rival scholar from the US. I’m not entirely sure where this narrative turn is going and, until this chapter, I didn’t mind the literary asides. I am actually very taken with Christabel LaMotte’s poetry and fairy tales. I did find it difficult to focus on Chapter 6, though. Hopefully it picks up soon!
If you’re participating in your readalong, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the end of this post. You can read Kim’s reactions here! What was your favorite part of Possession? Before you started reading, were you as intimidated by it as I was? If so, do you feel a little less intimidated now?