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Book #69: Possession

Let me tell you about Possession.

In fact, I’ll give you a quick outline of the novel in case you were considering reading it. No real spoilers, but here’s the breakdown:

  • Modern male academic researches male Victorian poet.
  • Modern female academic researches female Victorian poet.
  • Modern male academic discovers possible top-secret love connection between male Victorian poet and female Victorian poet.
  • 15 pages of letters from male Victorian poet to female Victorian poet.
  • 15 pages of letters from female Victorian poet to male Victorian poet.
  • Modern male academic and modern female academic meet.
  • 10 page Fairy Tale by female victorian poet.
  • Modern Male Academic and modern female academic go on trip together to discover more about male victorian poet and female victorian poet.
  • 10 page poem by male victorian poet.
  • 5 pages of letters from male victorian poet to his wife.
  • Modern male academic and modern female academic lie in bed together.
  • 10 page poem by male victorian poet.
  • LOTS STUFF ABOUT PLANTS AND BUGS.
  • 30 pages of journal writing from female victorian poet’s female cousin.
  • Modern male academic and modern female academic realize that their bosses are going to be pissed that they’ve been gone so long.
  • The academic bosses of modern male academic and modern female academic search for modern male academic and modern female academic, while realizing they are on to something of literary historical significance.
  • 10 pages of letters from male Victorian poet to female victorian poet.
  • A BLACK MERCEDES DRIVES FAST.
  • 20 pages of letters from male victorian poet’s wife to male victorian poet.
  • STORY WRAPS UP QUICKLY BECAUSE OF ALL THE POEMS AND FAIRY TALES IN THE FIRST 450 PAGES.
  • THE END.

The novel is part-romance, part-literary thriller. Think along the lines of National Treasure with victorian poets and stuffy academics in a game of The Amazing Race that ends at a graveyard.

Doesn’t sound all that bad, huh? Maybe not, but Possession nearly killed this blog.

It sucked my creative bones dry. The execution was just so heavy-handed and dull.

I felt like dying at times while reading this novel. A.S. Byatt was like one of Harry Potter’s dementors circling above me, ready to ravage my soul.

I exaggerate, obviously. But I can’t tell you how happy I am to be finished with Possession. That’s why this review is pretty much a steaming pile of poo. I can’t exert any more energy on this novel. I feel like I just took three Benadryl and sat in the middle of a corn field in 100 degree heat. I’m taxed.

But here are a few points.

 Other Stuff

The Opening Line: “The book was thick and black and covered with dust.”

The Meaning: It’s possession. These poets are “possessed” by love, making them do crazy stuff. And there’s séances in the book, too. See, it’s a theme, this whole possession thing.

Highlights: When A.S. Byatt actually tries to move a story forward, she’s not bad it. That doesn’t happen often though.

Lowlights: Horribly slow-pacing. Long-winded. Many tangents unnecessary to main story. Feels like a bit of an ego-stroke for A.S. Byatt. Heavy-handed execution and dull.

Memorable Line: The last one: “And on the way home, she met her brothers, and there was a rough-and-tumble, and the lovely crown was broken, and she forgot the message, which was never delivered.”

Final Thoughts: I’m being overly harsh on this novel. I realize that. If you like this novel, I’m sorry. You should know that it inspired an upcoming post about the difference between a “bad novel” and “a novel I hate.” This would fall into that latter category. I’m not dense enough to believe Posssession doesn’t have literary merit. That’s obvious. It’s just diametrically the opposite of everything I personally enjoy about reading literature.

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42 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on dunjav.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  2. I read this book yet remember little about it except I turned pages, read words and was happy to reach the end. Even your synopsis above doesn’t help me recall what I read.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
    • My synopsis sucked. I just have nothing to say about this book. I really didn’t like it.

      Like

      April 15, 2014
      • Your synopsis was an amusing read, which is more than can be said about the book.

        Like

        April 15, 2014
  3. ;D

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  4. What ever on earth possessed Time to include this on its list? Thanks for your clever synopsis. The black Mercedes part may have merit, though?

    Like

    April 15, 2014
    • To each his own. It has literary merit, but it’s just not for me.

      Like

      April 15, 2014
  5. “Possession almost killed this blog”….ha ha ha ha….really love your direct style, Robert! But would hate to be one of those authors whose work you dislike…fortunately I’m not likely to make the Times or any great mainstream list…and I really enjoy your posts. Thanks!

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  6. Possession is one of my favourite novels of all time. It is truly amazing (and wonderful to me) that you and I could have read the same characters and the same events described by the same author, and have reached such different conclusions. What distinguishes our responses from one another is everything that lies around and between the lines of your outline.

    I used to tell my creative writing classes that it was a really good thing that readers had different tastes, because if we all had the same tastes, the world would just need one writer. And I wouldn’t have been teaching creative writing because I would have wanted to be that one writer. 🙂

    I have the same response to Jane Austen books as you’ve had to Byatt. I’m about the only reader of serious literature I know who simply doesn’t have any interest in Austen’s works. And I never got past the first Harry Potter. So maybe my judgement is out of whack.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
    • Mary, good to read your comment — yes, its quite amazing — or perhaps not at all amazing — that we all have such different tastes – gender, background, education, predilections — all play such a big role in our liking/disliking. Personally I don’t think I would like Possession — sounds boring to me…but i can see it appealing to someone else…. as for Jane Austen, that era of stiff upper lips and so much protocolic (is that even a word?) bs never attracted me…however, strangely enough, The Scarlet Pimpernel was a tale I read in school and fell completely in love with it — what it is is that I love STORY…..

      Like

      April 15, 2014
    • Haha. Like you said, we all bring different tastes and perspectives to each book we read. I almost try and make it clear that “this is my opinion” and I never try and say that you’re stupid if you like a book or anything like that. Some people hate Gatsby, and I’ll never figure that one out, but that’s their opinion.

      Like

      April 15, 2014
  7. Soooo…the movie version, then? The movie’s gotta be better…

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  8. One of my best friends adores this book. She suggested it for our book club. I gave it a chance and immediately wanted to chuck it out the window. I skimmed a lot of it. Made it to the end and will never look back. I actually enjoyed your blog posts on this book. I am happy to know I am not alone. And it was fun to forward it to my friend and poke fun at her.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  9. I feel this way about the novel that won the Pulitzer yesterday. Funny, eh?

    I think I’ll give Possession a pass until I’m old and have read everything else that’s on my TBR list. Thanks for the public service!

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  10. I liked your review.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  11. Kirsten #

    As I mentioned in a comment on an earlier post, I have memories of loving this book when I read it, but that was a while ago. I don’t remember exactly what drew me to it, except that it had a powerful emotional effect on me at that time. So much of how we respond to books reflects what we bring to the book and who we are at the time of reading. Your response is making me want to go back and encounter Possession again to see what effect it has on me now. Love your blog and hope for some better reads for you in the near future!

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  12. The whole “bad novel” vs. “novel I hate” thing is an interesting concept, and one that I’ve thought about a lot when reading “classic” novels. Looking forward to hearing your take on it!

    Like

    April 15, 2014
    • I’ve also thought about the reverse a lot – “good novel” vs “novel I love/enjoy”. There are some “rubbish” books which I enjoyed, and some books which even I admit are excellent, but that I didn’t really enjoy.

      Like

      April 15, 2014
  13. 450 pages before a black Mercedes drives fast. Bet you were relieved to get that scene. This reminds me of the time I read through the Bible. The book of Leviticus was a killer. I don’t do that one again.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  14. I couldn’t get through the book either. I didn’t force myself to finish it like you did (BRAVO!). Your synopsis told me everything I need to know about it. I think I will just watch the movie on this one.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  15. Well, I guess I know to avoid this one! I give you major props for being able to finish it, though. If a book was as droll as “Possession” sounds, I don’t think I could’ve gotten past the first 20 pages.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  16. Give it on i CANNOT WAIT

    Like

    April 16, 2014
  17. Liz #

    Thanks for taking the bullet. Removing from my to-read list along with Babel Tower.

    Like

    April 16, 2014
  18. You’re not alone: I’ve abandoned it on a shelf somewhere, with the book marker halfway through the book.
    Even the movie is boring 😦

    Like

    April 17, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on agentbaure's Blog.

    Like

    April 21, 2014
  20. Have a lovely weekend Robert

    Like

    April 25, 2014
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