Wednesday, January 28, 2009

book clubbing in January

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Booker Prize-winning Possession is an academic mystery and a literary love story. It's multilayered, dealing with the Victorian era as much as modern times, and using a variety of different devices to convey the story. As such it was wonderful discussion fodder.

The novel does drag at times (personally I had the most trouble with excerpts from Ash's biographies as well as some of the poems), but it is definitely worth pushing through those sections. The story has some wonderfully unexpected twists at the end.

A couple of our members had difficulty getting through Possession. I recommended watching the movie and that seems to have been a good solution, allowing us all to really get into the discussion at our meeting this afternoon. We talked about possession as a theme in the novel, its portrayal of academia, our reactions to the various characters (we found most of them unsympathetic), the poets Ash and Christabel were modeled after (allegedly Robert Browning and Isabel Rossetti), different aspects of the story, the role of the epigraphs at the beginning of some of the novel's chapters, and the quality of Byatt's poetry, among other things.

One of Possession's greatest strengths is that it forces the reader to spend time on it. It's not a book that you can rush through, but it's also a book that is worth spending time on. Possession is substantive. There's something spiritual about it, one of our members said. The Victorian parts in particular are wonderfully atmospheric.

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