You are gripped. Tense. And you are completely immersed. Its not a thriller on the big screen but A.S. Byatt’s Possession. It all starts with postdoctoral research assistant Roland Mitchell discovering a few letters that the poet Randolph Henry Ash had written to a woman who was not his wife. The ball is set rolling and thus begins the search for the rest of the letters. The book delightfully interweaves the lives of Ash and his paramour with that of Mitchell and his companion Maud Bailey with whom he ultimately falls in love. There are parallels between Ash’s and Mitchell’s world and their lives are almost running side by side as Mitchell follows Ash’s wanderings. The theme of possession is depicted at various levels in the book and it is such that eventually the reader is possessed by the book itself.
The book has all the elements of a suspense thriller but at a much higher plane. It is a critique of Victorian poetry in parts and Ash is modeled on Browning which is very evident in Byatt’s stylistics. I admit I skipped a lot of the reams of poetry (as many readers would have am sure) that Byatt has painstakingly written but I did give them a quick peruse. The poetry does not serve much purpose except to provide an authentic setting. But although they are not really part of the narrative, they do give clues to the lives of Ash and his love Christabel LaMotte, the most famous being the imagery of Melusina. The book’s ending is very much in the Gothic style where facts get dispelled and fiction comes to the forefront. Its a must read for literature buffs and those who can't get enough of literary suspenses. It cannot exactly be classified as bed-time reading, though the book has its moments of pure lightheartedness, and needs reflection in the true nature of a classic which has layers of meaning. As for me, I simply was possessed.
Verdict - Must buy if you are in love with literature and history