I’m back with a brand new Otterly Amazing Read and today it’s a fabulous novel by one of my favourite writers (though I confess she is a bit of a marmite author – you either love her or hate her).
That author is A.S.Byatt and the book is the utterly magical Possession.
If you follow me on here you know I’m a bit of a fan of historical fiction. And on the occasions that A.S Byatt writes historical fiction she completely nails it, creating a sense of setting and characters that transport the reader backwards in time. This is one of my particular favourites of hers (and not just because it’s a pretty purple colour).
Possession tells the story of two modern day academics as they research the previously unknown romance between famous fictional poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The story then moves between this and the Victorian Era (a little side note here at how well Byatt manages to mimic the wordy and floral writing style of this time), and builds towards the unveiling of a secret about the lovers …
The novel is, in part, a bit of a detective story. It is made up on diary entries, poems, letters and mock academic works. It is creative and inventive and a real book-lovers book. Mixing history with the present day this is what is sometimes known as metafiction, a novel which consciously reminds you that it is in fact a work of fiction.
All this makes it sound a bit academic and stuffy, when actually it is just a wildly creative book which celebrates bibliophiles and books. It’s also a love story with the journey of the two academics mirroring that of the lovers.
I read this novel one summer. Sat on a busy train, squashed between business people and frazzled commuters. It totally transported me, so much so that I almost missed my station on multiple occasions. I had not long finished my degree and longed to be back in the world of academia (apparently forgetting that it wasn’t all just time spent hidden in library stacks and delving into literary mysteries). For me it was one of those moments where a book offers you all the things you’re craving, transporting you from the mundane to the magical.
It is warm and witty, gently poking fun at the eccentricities of academics, of “Britishness” and the tropes of detective fiction. The narrative is completely immersive (yes ok sometimes the descriptions are overly long and a little indulgent) and the characters feel so real that they could walk off the page and into your life at any moment.
Though Byatt is known to produce slightly stuffy and pretentious literary fiction this, along with her novel The Children’s Book, is a softer offering.
This is a book for you if you enjoyed the fantastical Ten Thousand Doors of January. Both are love letters to the joys of reading, the treasures to be found in libraries and brilliant historical fictions.