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Possession: You Hate It Or You Love It

Last week I told you guys I was out of things to say about Possession and/or A.S. Byatt. I’m saving the tiny bit I have left for my review. I really hate this book.

So I thought I’d let the sometimes-friendly reviewers at Good Reads tell you a little more about it.

The book has more than 42,000 ratings and 2,600 reviews, with an average rating of 3.85 out of 5.

As I highlight some of the reviews below, I’ll be fair. I’ll include 3 one-star and 3 five-star reviews of Possession.

Who cares what I think? Let the reviews speak for themselves.

The 5 stars

This is a beautiful love story, achieving a level of romantic passion, emotion, and anguish like that of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with the Byronic or Gothic touches of the Bronte sisters. It is clear, to me, why Byatt was awarded the Booker Prize forPossession in 1990; and that this novel is clearly destined to be a classic work of literature.

– Christopher H. 

Reading this marvelous piece had been an amazing journey. My imagination had been triggered to expand more than ever—more than I expected. Shifting back and forth between two eras that are told alternately, I was slowly traversing in an amazing conundrum through various forms of writing; letters, diaries, poems, and even fairy tales. Byatt shows how imagination and creativity can possibly be manifested in various modes and are not strictly bound by a clear definition or a specific genre. I admit that this had not been an easy one to delve into, but it had been a worth journey indeed. I mean, who else writes like this?

-Sherien

For me, Possession is like a bottle of wine or a box of really good chocolate (the really, expensive and sinfully good kind). There is an aboluste beauty in this book, and it seems to lie in the details. How all the characters still in character, the resolution to both romances at the end, all the touches about criticism – all these ring true.

-Chris

And then there are the one-star reviews.

A honking great piece of literary self gratification, a novel about writers (all novels about writers should be given a concrete overcoat), a grand excuse for A S Byatt to dazzle us with some fancy ventriloquism, and yes you can feel the throb of the author’s perfervid intelligence like a lawnmower hacking away at the tough grass at the edge of the lawn but after all of that you have to come clean and say that Possession isn’t worth the thinnest novelette written by Raymond Chandler or the most offhand poem by e e cummings or the most obscure B side by the Beach Boys either. A pure waste of time which I was suckered into by someone whose taste I had thought trustworthy, so that was a lesson bitterly learned.

***

This book breaks one of PB’s commandments :

– Thou shalt not write a book which is a series of SOCK PUPPETS designed entirely to impress the hoi polloi at the Hay-on-Wye Literary festival when you read bits out to them in FUNNY VOICES.

-Paul

zzz….

I think this book would be excellent if you’ve never read another book that had the theme of parallel lives & loves. And if you’ve never read anything by Anais Nin and Henry Miller. The writing style came across as forced and over-done. I thought if I saw “Randolph Henry Ash” one more time I’d chuck the book out the train window.

After enduring the torture that is this book my guess is Ms. Byatt was unable to find a job after grad school and thus wants to inflict more people with her misery

-Jennifer

After suffering through the entirety of another impenetrable Byatt fog (Angels & Insects), I’d guessed myself prepared for the onslaught. But no. There was zero chance of harmonious discourse between my inferior brain & the superior waffle ofPossession. It’s the simple result of a simple equation, you see? I failed to appreciate that A.S. Byatt is smart, therefore I failed to appreciate why I should give a rat’s ass about these fictional academic blowhards & their bloated, self-indulgent dialogues.

…But perhaps the failure isn’t all my fault. A.S. Byatt is smart, remember.

-Sarah

So there you go. You know I’m going to lean toward the one-stars on this one. Aren’t one-star reviews always more creative anyway?

I don’t know exactly what I’d call Possession yet, and I have no idea exactly what A.S. Byatt is trying to prove in the novel. But whatever it is she’s doing, she’s using a hammer to do it. This novel will wear you down, friends.

When will I end this painful stage of 101 Books, post my review, and get on with my life? I don’t know. Hopefully, my review will be coming next week.

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. sally1137 #

    Good thing you’re not doing a shot every time you read “Randolph Henry Ash,”

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  2. Might make it a much more palatable book, I guess.

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  3. I was a bit of a daredevil when I found and actually purchased (for $1) this book at our library sale this weekend. I’d read your reviews and your words kept going through my head as I picked up the book then put it down then picked it up again…your words were competing against the review of another blogger friend who LOVED the book. I finally figured that $1 is a small price to pay whether I end up loving or hating it. 😉

    Like

    April 8, 2014
    • Hi, Cecilia! I’m here because I’m researching AS Byatt for something I’m writing. I was a big AS Byatt fan and loved Possession when I read it 15 years ago. I also used to be big on Iris Murdoch fan. From my memory, I think an issue here is that this sort of writing has gone out of fashion and we are not used to these swirling plots and myriad characters any more. When I re-read Iris Murdoch it’s difficult for me to recapture the magic I first felt. But I hope you enjoy Possession. There’s a lot there to enjoy if you can sink back into it.

      Like

      April 14, 2014
      • Hi Denise, thanks for writing me here! I’m so glad to read your comment. There’s a part of me that feels intrigued by Possession, so I like hearing the encouragement from people who loved it! I have not read anything by Iris Murdoch. It’s interesting how we could feel differently about an author/book depending on when in our lives we read him/her/it.

        Like

        April 15, 2014
        • Definitely. I thought Murdoch was the bees knees, coming from my limited adolescent world. Now I realise how many limitations her characters put on themselves (although that is part of her theme – characters being moral, good, doing the right thing.)

          Like

          April 15, 2014
  4. Sukanya Ramanujan #

    I liked it, but everybody has their own viewpoints!

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  5. Those one star reviews ARE fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the sock puppets and lawnmower analogies. I give those one star reviews, 5 stars.

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  6. I seem to recall liking the book, though I honestly don’t remember that much of it. But I was also reading it for a class on 20th Century British Literature and the prof was ridiculously exuberant in his love of the works he was teaching, so that may have had something to do with my liking it. I find that the more years I’m out of academia, the less I appreciate books that are, as one reviewer called it, “a honking great piece of literary self gratification.” I’m now curious as to what I would think of this now. Good luck with the rest of the read 🙂 -Tania

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  7. I think it’s much more interesting when a book generates these bipolar assessments. Middle of the road reviews tend to leave me disinterested in learning more about a book.

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  8. Elaine Sargent #

    Tried to read it many years ago but couldn’t get through it. Just seemed like a lot of blather to me…

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  9. Reblogged this on dunjav.

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  10. Best comment: “A. S. Byatt is smart.” I love that comment. It sums it all up.

    Like

    April 8, 2014
  11. I ended up giving it three stars, I think, because I liked *part* of it. The part I liked balanced out the parts I hated (somewhat). I also ended up giving Byatt credit for what she was attempting to do with the book, even though it didn’t work for me.

    Like

    April 9, 2014
    • But it *was* a tough decision between 2 stars or 3.

      Like

      April 9, 2014

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