Review: Possession by A.S. Byatt

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Literary critics make natural detectives,” says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known “fairy poetess” and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud’s discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte’s passion.

Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize–the U.K.’s highest literary award–Possession is a gripping and compulsively readable novel. A.S. Byatt exquisitely renders a setting rich in detail and texture. Her lush imagery weaves together the dual worlds that appear throughout the novel–the worlds of the mind and the senses, of male and female, of darkness and light, of truth and imagination–into an enchanted and unforgettable tale of love and intrigue.


I read this novel ages ago, and am glad that I re-read it for the AB challenge because the second time around, the novel is so much better and richer. I think a lot of that has to do with my age and understanding of literature, as well.

My favourite parts were the snippets of poems and letters by Ash and La Motte, especially the letters, which are rich in, not only their yearning and love for each other, but also of their banter and discussion of their respective work. The combination of the historical love story and the present day one between Maud and Roland is masterfully and delicately portrayed.

The overall ideas of what it means to be possessed I found I understood much this time around, and I’m really happy I came back to this because the years between the first reading and now had shortened my memory of the novel only to snapshots of either Roland and Maud, or Ash and La Motte. This was a wonderful read.


4 thoughts on “Review: Possession by A.S. Byatt

  1. I love the parallel romances and the way Roland and Maud offer a kind of hope for their Victorian counterparts. Byatt is amazing – have you read The Children’s Book? I’m hoping to squeeze it in between Apocalypse Books!

  2. Hi Naomipenn,

    That’s what drew me to the novel – the parallel romances. I have to say, I like the Victorian romance a bit more, probably because I love history, especially that time period.

    No, I haven’t read ‘The Children’s Book’ – will check the library today … Byatt is truly amazing! Her ‘Babel Tower’ is also very good. Will see if I can manage it between Apocalypse Books, as well 🙂



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