Back in the winter, when I was considering which books I might like to reread this year, Possession by A. S. Byatt topped my list. I have read it two or three times, and each time I enjoy and understand it a little bit more. Itâ€™s a book that works on a lot of levels, the kind of book that makes me love being a reader and sure I could never write a book.
Possession is the story of two present-day scholars, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey. Roland is an expert on Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, and Maud studies Ash’s contemporary Christabel LaMotte. As Roland and Maud jointly study Ash and LaMotte’s journals and letters, they begin to suspect that the two poets had a secret relationship, and they use literary detection (my favorite part of the story) to piece together the truth.
I know many of my friends havenâ€™t read it, so I came up with the clever idea that perhaps we could all read it together. And so, I offer you the Through a Glass Darkly Summer Book Club. Possession has 28 chapters and a postscript, so the plan is to discuss five chapters a week for six weeks, starting June 18. I will try to do the posts on Mondays for the five chapters we are discussing that week. It will be a challenge for me to discuss the chapters without giving away the ending, but I think it will be fun for me to take the book piece by piece like this.
And now, a note about actually reading Possession. The best piece of advice I was given before reading it the first time was that it’s okay to skip the poetry. A few chapters of the story are told in Ash and LaMotte’s poetry, and I will confess that the first time I read Possession, I did no more than skim it. If you can’t do the long poetry, skip it. You’ll be able to understand what’s happening without it. If you like poetry and can stand to read a few epic poems, I will go ahead and let you know that it’s totally worth it. It adds an extra level to the story that is wonderful, and I was amazed at the depth when I read the book the second time and made it through the poems. Basically, don’t let the poetry stop you from reading this book, but read it if you can.
Additionally, I once saw an online discussion about Possession that included explanations of all the literary references. And there were a lot of references. It was fairly amazing. I am, unfortunately, not capable of recreating that, and that discussion, unfortunately, has been lost to time (I know the Internet Archive could possibly help me out, but I’m not sure I’ll have the time to dig it all up). I’ll do the best I can with the knowledge I have. Deal?
Possession won the Booker Prize in 1990, and should be available at your public library. I look forward to reading it again and hearing what you all think. See you here on June 18 for a discussion of chapters 1-5!