…and it’s been sitting in my own collection for a good decade or so? How did I keep stepping around this one? This book was written for me- or at least the me of ten years ago. DEFINITLEY the me of twenty years ago. 14-year-old-me would have swooned myself into an early grave with this one!
A youngish academic is sinking further and further into classic British gloom. He’s in a dead relationship, putting in time in a dead-end job, researching crumbs on a long-dead romantic poet, and living in a damp basement that grows more damp every day with a combination of general basement-tude and raining cat urine from the house above.
Sounds lovely, right?
Because within the bowels of the basement where he works, within the crumbling pages of a long forgotten research tome, he finds something. He finds something that may be BIG. He finds something that breathes new and ecstatic life into both his research subject and himself. It appears to be the first few drafts of a letter…and not just any letter, but an amorous letter written to another poet of the age!
How delightfully SCANDALOUS!
Luckily? Unluckily? for our hero, he is far from the only person pulled into this cyclone, and he is far from the only person on the hunt for connection, recognition, and true literary discovery. He is rushing against the clock, against rivals, against superiors, and against the woman who possesses his every thought and action.
His is not the only story being told, of course. The poet that he studies- and the other contemporary poet to whom he writes- are creations from A.S. Byatt. She wrote hundreds of pages of letter, poems, stories, and other bits and bobs attributed and about these poets, and her detail is truly astounding. Her fake poets are woven do deeply into the tapestry of other writers and artists of the time it is easy to forget that they do not truly exist. I am usually exasperated by poetry written by the author and passed off to be that of past “masters”, but this time I was absolutely hooked. Byatt’s references to poetry, history, mythology, religion, and the natural world all whirl together to make believable and compelling past-creations. I was briefly astounded by the fact that neither poet actually existed; I found myself googling references to paintings that did not exist. Oops!
Possession is a book in which to lose oneself. Look too hard and the hard light of day will shine back in your eyes, but lose yourself to the myth and you’ll find yourself floating in meta-literary heaven.