If any book was made for a reread it’s Possession by Antonia Susan Byatt. The language lends itself to a slower reading with multiple pauses, not the way I read it. Initially I required pauses but as the book progressed I became breathless with anticipation. The story shifts from the past to the present and unlikely but delicious connections are forged. A literary mystery with a difference. I’m way under qualified to talk about Possession. Consider this a book appreciation post, if you may.
It was a slow start with too many characters and their backstories, with some passages dragging in between but the plot and the writing more than made up for it. I raced to the end, and this after having seen the film should tell you what kind of a book it is (more than my feeble attempt at a review!).
There are things that happen and leave no discernible trace, are not spoken or written of, though it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been.
This book made me work hard, like the few classics I have read do but none had actual poetry in them. The poems took me back to school (the way we were required to study it but we didn’t have long epic poems thankfully). The poems were interwoven so delicately that I actually read all of them though not in order and, of course, I couldn’t understand everything. Out of all the poems Swammerdam stood out for me.
What surprised me was the amount of natural science present in this book about the Victorian romance of two poets. And it is clever because the year 1859 was an important year for biology. It was the year Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. I could appreciate the book better because I knew some of the things being talked about. Who would have thought my biology background would lead to a greater appreciation of this splendid book.
I loved the book and won’t be forgetting it in a hurry but I am unimpressed after seeing the film a second time. There are huge chunks missing from the film and it would perhaps work better as a miniseries. Everything was so elegant in the book which isn’t the case with the film. I read Possession 27 years after its publication (it won the Man Booker Prize in 1990) and it’s a book which commands all the attention you could possibly give it. Finishing the book I realize it would have been stunning had I not seen the film; the suspense would have been nail biting. Until I fancy a reread there is The Children’s Book and Angels and Insects to plough through.