June 04, 2003

Possession, by A. S. Byatt

During my last knitting group get together, we were chatting about books. It's a common topic since most knitters I know are also readers. Mysteries seem to be the most popular genre with Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael and the Judge Dee books the most popular. Why this is so, I have no clue, though we have had chats about the precise techniques for knitting while reading. Perhaps it's some primal need to multitask that I never inherited. I do know I have never gotten the hang of it, the book keeps flopping closed or I drop a stitch or I forget to knit and just read or whatever. So I must divide my time.

Anyway, Byatt as an author came up and I mentioned that I had tried 3 times to read Possession without success and had given it up as too obtuse or modern for my sensibilities. Another member of the group suggested I give it another go, staying with it for the 1st hundred pages or so before tossing it into the trade in box for the used bookstore. And of course, she was right. The story kicked in somewhere around page 70 or so and I was hooked for a week.

I mean, really hooked. I read it at work on breaks, while cooking, before bed, waiting for my dinosaur computer to boot, etc., etc. I even delayed knitting on a sweater I've been dying to work on to finish it. I got a little anxious when I realized that I only had about 20 more pages and the book would be over. Sort of anticipatory separation anxiety. This happens rarely.

The plot is more complex than this but essentially it's a mystery. A young, unemployed researcher of an obscure British poet runs across a draft of a letter by the poet to a woman. There is no known documentation that the two had ever met except for a brief reference to the woman at a dinner party he attended. She, however, had written an epic romance that the feminist camp had rediscovered recently so he takes himself over to the leading scholar of the woman's work to see what he can find out. She, of course, is brainy, beautiful and interested...in the relationship between the two poets. From there, it is the bit by bit unraveling of the poets' story thru letters, journals and literary detective work and the building of the relationship between the two modern researchers. It was entrancing. Byatt writes with a command of the language that is breathtaking. Some of her descriptions I read two and three times just to enjoy them again. Her use of color was so interesting I was noting them on post it notes to see if I could find the pattern. There is one, but I will leave it up to you to discover. A rare, fine read. And she has other books she's written to be discovered and read.

Posted by Deb English at June 4, 2003 07:11 PM