Possession: A Romance
A. S. Byatt
Possession is a rich, layered novel featuring both a romance between two Victorian-era poets, and present-day relationships between academics who have made their careers as experts on the poets' lives. Roland Michell is a kind of perpetual student, researching the life of Randolph Henry Ash. Maud Bailey is established in her career with a university's women's studies center; her specialty is the poet Christabel LaMotte. When the book opens, Roland has made an interesting discovery indicating Ash may have had a relationship with a woman other than his wife. His inquiry leads him to Maud. Together they assemble a picture of a romance between Ash and LaMotte, which turns prevailng academic opinion upside-down. Others begin to pursue the prize and the associated professional glory.
Byatt employs several creative devices to develop the characters and tell the story. Ash and LaMotte's relationship is reconstructed primarily through artifacts (letters, journals) obtained by Roland and Maud. Byatt "reproduces" them in their entirety so the reader feels like part of the research team. The romantic storyline also unfolds from several points of view, with each person having only a partial picture. The reader can see it all. And as the Victorian mystery is solved, the lives of present-day characters become increasingly interconnected. Byatt concludes the novel by tying up several threads and adding a quite satisfying postscript. ( )