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Possession: A Romance [Paperback]

A S Byatt
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
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Book Description

'Byatt has contrived a masterly ending to a fine work; intelligent, ingenious and humane, Possession bids fair to be looked back upon as one of the most memorable novels of the 1990s' Times Literary Supplement

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Product details

  • Paperback: 511 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009943184X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099431848
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,238,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990), and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, as well as The Shadow of the Sun, The Game and The Biographer's Tale. Her latest novel, The Children's Book, is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009. She is also the author of two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of stories, and has co-edited Memory: An Anthology.

Educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught at the Central School of Art and Design, and was Senior Lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

Product Description

Amazon Review

"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, 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. --Lisa Whipple --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"A massive, complex story about a literary mystery which turns into an emotional voyage of discovery...The novel is a triumphant success on every level - as a critique of Victorian poetry, an unbearably moving love story and a satire on the modern "Biography Industry"" (Cosmopolitan)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed masterpiece 14 Oct 2000
By A Customer
There are some good novels which are technically perfect but somehow lack the quality that gives real greatness. This novel, I think, is the opposite - a great novel with deep flaws. It is strange, but entirely apt, that it is the Victorian characters, Ash and LaMotte, who come to life vividly and grow to an almost mythic stature whilst the 20C characters never quite convince and finally dwindle into a rather weak campus comedy.
The point is that it's the Victorians this book is about. I know I'm not supposed to get into debates with other reviewers but... More than one has said 'skip the poetry' and even 'skip the letters'. Please give the poetry a go and certainly read the letters. Without these, the letters especially, you won't understand Ash and LaMotte properly. When you do this lifts the book way beyond a literary detective yarn. It does need patience, which is hardly a modern virtue, but the rewards are worth it.
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76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savour this literary feast 28 April 2005
I first acquired a copy of 'Possession' some fifteen years ago, and it remained on the bookshelf unread as a friend whose judgment I trust warned me that it contained reams of poetry and was generally hard work. I am now so glad that I have finally made the effort to read this wonderful book and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Let me deal first with my friend's warnings... Yes, 'Possession' does contain large amounts of poetry. It is probably possible to read, comprehend and enjoy the novel whilst skipping over all or most of the poetry, although I tend to feel that the poems are an indispensable part of the overall magic of the work. At the other extreme, there may be avid poetry readers that devote a lot of time trying to fully interpret the poems. For the record, I took a middle path of reading the poetry without being overly concerned at the references and allusions that escaped me. Although the poems are not masterpieces in themselves, they do give insights into the character of the two poets, and references in the poems are sometimes tied into developments in the main prose narrative. And most of all, they are enjoyable reading - particularly for those of us that rarely make the effort to read poetry nowadays. With regard to the second warning, 'Possession' does make significant though not impossible demands on the reader, particularly in the early stages due to the multiple plotlines and range of new characters. I read the 500-odd pages in just under two days (rescheduling a couple of social activities!) and would recommend such intensive reading for those that can make the time; conversely, I suggest that this is not a book that can be approached as a casual read over a long period of time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely painful... 23 May 2011
First, the positives- this is obviously an extremely well-crafted novel, which combines contemporary and Victorian eras with extracts from diaries, letters and substantial poems. There's also some very good academic satire...but that's about it. With one or two exceptions, the characters never really come to life (many of them are little more than caricatures) and the novel never really seems to make up its mind what it's about. I really wanted to like it, and in some ways perhaps it deserved it, but in the end I only finished it out of spite and not wanting the wretched thing to beat me!
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major tour de force 25 May 2001
By A Customer
Being a greedy reader, I feel confident to say that this is one of the best books I've read - ever! It has so many levels of interpretation and such a playful interweaving of detective novel with romantic novel with academic novel with gothic novel with historical novel with feminist novel with... that I think it can appeal to almost any reader! I found the past love story deeply moving - and you can only grasp it thoroughly if you read Ash and LaMotte's letters. I enjoyed the rendering of this love affair so much that I can't help saying with Roland and Maude Bailey, the contemporary scholars that have unearthed this relationship and will re-live it, that in our postmodern times we are deeply suspicious of love and desire. I also loved one of the long poems, «Melusina», especially the part that mentions how women's power was ultimately undermined through men's fear. I can't help feeling that this is still true in our time! I recommend this book to anyone who is patient enough to appreciate taking the time to discover things by themselves and not being told right out. It's worth the effort, because, as one of the characters says, there are readings by which you can know what has been there all the time and make you understand it, see it, in a different light. This is certainly the case!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It will possess you too! 27 Nov 2005
This book is truly brilliant. To merge academia, mystery and romance is not an easy task, but A.S.Byatt has pulled it off incredibly well. The characters are all fully three dimensional, even the liminal ones, and the poetry and letters supposedly from the pen of the Victorian poets Randolph and Christabel, are superbly, passionately and intellectually written. They are worth study themselves, considering the fact that A.S.Byatt is both a poet and literary critic and has filled them with meaning I was too much in a hurry to analyse properly. Maybe on a second reading. As a lit crit myself, I found this novel perfectly illustrated the way certain writers possess the imagination of modern readers. It made me fall in love with my subject all over again. To realise the passion, the despair, the pain behind poetry written for reasons you might never realise until a secret hoard of letters is unearthed is a thrilling premise. I found myself crying at the end of this beautiful, beautiful novel; what a marvellous, yet tragic ending. Possession definitely warrants multiple readings in order to pick up loose ends and strands you may have missed on the first time round. I do intend to re read it, taking more time over it and analysing the poems more deeply. Now I know the end, I will not need to read it so manically! This is worth a good few weeks, if you can drag it out for that long, of anyone's time. It is heavy going at certain points, and those not accustomed to reading poetry may be tempted to skip the poems (don't! They provide vital clues and are works of literary genius in their own right!) but savour every moment of it and you cannot fail to be delighted, saddened and possessed with a passion for these characters yourself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Isn't she clever!
Oh A.S. Byatt what a clever woman you are and don't you want to let us know it! I tried honestly to get engaged with the characters and plot but could not work up any enthusiasm... Read more
Published 5 months ago by meg keir
3.0 out of 5 stars Still Not Sure...
I read this to see what all of the hype was about and initially I couldn't see it. I found myself skimming through chapters and passages and I occasionally couldn't see when it... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rachel
1.0 out of 5 stars What separates this book from great literature? 511 pages.
What separates this book from great literature? 511 pages.

There are ways to show the human condition in its vainglorious, conceited and costive facets; there are ways... Read more
Published 9 months ago by A Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
First read this about 20 years ago, and loved it. Remains one of my favourite books. It has everything. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Moviefan
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't give up.
I read this book twice - giving up after 200 pages the first time - and I can understand why there are reviews here (and associated scores) that do just this; but once past halfway... Read more
Published 12 months ago by steam_simon
4.0 out of 5 stars Takes a while to get into it...
...but once you do it is great read and a real page turner! Sometimes the description could be a bit long-winded though.
Published 12 months ago by Abby Millard
2.0 out of 5 stars Long winded
I struggled with this very wordy book but as being done for Book Club, I did finish it. Left out huge chunks but
have to admit to an unusual story line and interesting... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Charles Inness
4.0 out of 5 stars Hated this book when I was younger - love it now
I tried and tried to read this book when it was first published and couldn't finish it.
Loving it now. So beautifully written and I am fascinated by the characters.
Published 13 months ago by Dharma Cat
3.0 out of 5 stars Intersting but toooo long
I read this book on a friends recommendation. Good story,some interesting characters, amazing research and description but too much waffle for me.
Published 14 months ago by Mrs Patricia C Collin
1.0 out of 5 stars worst book ever
Had to read it for a literature exam, couldn't get past the first chapter. Its so confusing and just plain boring, ended up just looking up a summary of the book
Published 14 months ago by Asma
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