This is going to sting a bit – “Possesion” by A.S. Byatt

July 8, 2012 at 7:17 am 10 comments

I am always nervous when I start reading a book that everyone adores.  Over the last 10 years I have been hearing about “Possession” and how much I would love it and I have been avoiding it.  So just to tear the band-aid off quickly – I really didn’t like this book. I know that there will be collective gasps in the world of readership so please note I am appropriately shamed by this confession.

“Possession” is the story of two literary scholars, in England, who exclusively research, write about, think about two fictional Victorian poets.  Their research brings them together (love ensues of course) and they make an amazing discovery – these two Victorian poets were in love as well.  This discovery could prove lucrative but also could change the research of  both of their departments turning the literary world upside-down – key the dramatic, exciting music.

Okay, so I am being glib. But that is essentially the story line.  And the story line is fine and somewhat familiar.  What is not fine is the length of this book, all 550 pages of it.  If you know anything about my reading I am absolutely fine with long books. I have read some doozies, including the whole Anthony Trollope Barsetshire series – which is a commitment. But dear writer if you are going to be long-winded it had better be for good reason.  Here it was not.  Instead, Byatt uses this opportunity to pen a whole bunch of epic poetry, meant to be by the Victorian poets,  I think merely to show she can. And it is not that it is bad poetry it is just…well…not really necessary.  I know what you are thinking, it helps propel the story by showing how the poets’ relationship effects their works. But for me this would only be interesting if they were actually real poets. Showing how fake poets fell in love and then wrote fake poems so we can fill many, many pages just seems a bit much. I did not find the characters or the story amazing enough to redeem the book and by page 400 I thought “it is this over yet?” and  “I wonder if I have any ice cream in the freezer” and “I can’t believe I forgot to buy dog food today.”  Regardless, I got a lot of thinking done while reading this book.

I know that many people revisit this book frequently and I fully admit you are better readers than I.  And hey, what do I know- this is all coming from a girl who read “The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice three times (THREE FLIPPING TIMES) in high school.  So you see there is no accounting for taste.


Entry filed under: July 2012 reads. Tags: , , , .

If only work didn’t muck up my reading time – three books, one vacation The simple question of “why?” sometimes has the hardest answer – “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff  |  July 8, 2012 at 7:20 am

    You are not alone – I really didn’t like ‘Possession’ either!

    • 2. Emily C  |  July 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

      Thank you for this. I was sure I was the only one…

  • 3. englishteacherconfessions  |  July 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I loved Possession–am planning to re-read it this very summer–but I respect your opinion. The thing is, not every book touches every person. Try as I might a few years ago, for ex, I could not finish Moby Dick. I could sense its greatness–and typically love Melville’s style and romanticism in general–but I just couldn’t care enough about the characters to slog through the detailed descriptions. I’m positive it was my problem, not the book’s, but what can a busy person do?
    Here’s my analogy: Although I’ve been to Paris three or four times, I don’t love it–I don’t feel its allure. (I’m much more of a Madrid girl, but that’s in part because I speak Spanish.) Anyway, I’m certain I simply haven’t given the city enough time, enough care. I haven’t had the right guide–I haven’t been exploring deeply enough…. My friends who worship Paris are flabbergasted when I admit my ambivalence. But I can’t fake it! And there are so many other cities to see and places to explore and areas to fall in love with–and life is short!–that I’m not going to spend much more energy trying to figure out how to love a city that I don’t understand.

    • 4. Emily C  |  July 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      This is a great analogy. Thank you for that. And there is no question that Byatt is a great writer but you are right, why try to figure out why I didn’t connect with it. On to the next book.

  • 5. biblioglobal  |  July 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    It bothers me also when writers add poetry they have written into their novels (or even worse, their non-fiction). I’m reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk right now and I’m so grateful that even though the main character is writing poems throughout the book, the poems themselves aren’t included. (If it helps, I wasn’t a fan of Possession either)

    • 6. Emily C  |  July 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      I agree. I also struggle when the book is about a writer and then there is a story within a story. It gets to be a bit much.

  • 7. Hope  |  July 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I knew I liked you! Even though we don’t always agree, I completely agree with your take on this particular book. I read it several years ago (pre-marriage) on the advice of a friend who loved it and told me I’d absolutely loved it. I was absolutely bored by it, and I’m not even sure it made the move with me post-marriage (which is saying a lot, considering my inability to get rid of most books I buy). Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my dislike of this book.

    • 8. Emily C  |  July 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Thank you for letting me know – I really thought I was the only one. I have been happy to hear that other people struggled with this book as well.

  • 9. Anonymous  |  July 9, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t.

    • 10. Emily C  |  July 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Thank you Mark:). Luckily your wife is on the fence about Neil Diamond.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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