Literature · Novels and Novellas

Possession by A.S Byatt | Book Review


Possession follows a group of literary scholars as they try to unravel the mystery of a relationship between two deceased poets (Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte). The mystery is slowly revealed through a series of letters, journal entries and hints found within their poetry that the main characters have to find/figure out.

Possession is a great book. The amount of detail and effort clearly put into it is very admirable. On top of its complexity it is still an engaging read as well (for the most part).

The novel has a lot of characters but the most important ones are Roland Michell and Maud Bailey. Roland is a college graduate struggling to break into academia. The closest thing he has to a job is running errands for the more successful Professor Blackadder.

Roland has a passion for the poet Randolph Henry Ash – in fact, he thinks Ash is a part of him. When doing some tasks in the London Library, Roland comes across a personal letter of Ash’s in one of the poet’s old books. A letter that clearly hasn’t been or wasn’t meant to be seen by the public. And this is where the search begins.

The letters all lead to Ash’s relationship with the lesser known female poet Christabel LaMotte. This is where Maud Bailey comes in, she’s an academic well-versed in literature and women’s studies. As the two search for more they soon form a complicated relationship.

There are plenty of other characters, and they’re all soon wanting to possess the letters between LaMotte and Ash.

The best part of the book is probably the modern-day characters. Their characterization is rich and they all feel real. We get to know all the characters’ motivations, drive and personal ambitions and I thought this was what made the book so fascinating.

LaMotte and Ash, the subject of the characters’ fascination, are not as interesting. We mostly know them via letter correspondence. Those letters, sad to say, were the dullest part of the book. I honestly felt the need to skip over the chapter that was just letters between them. But I wouldn’t recommend doing so since there’s important information there.

The funny thing is, LaMotte and Ash are only interesting when others are talking about them. The novel also contains journal entries from people who were close to the two, and these were far more interesting than the letters.

And then there’s their poetry. Honestly, it was pretty bad. They are fictional poets so I understand it would be hard for the author to write brilliant poetry if they’re not a poet. But I mean the poetry was still bad and not fun to read. All the poems just seemed like a bunch of lines pushed together rather than a coherent piece.

But besides those negative aspects of the novel, I still feel it’s a good book. Watching the characters try to figure out the mystery of the two poets is the best part and how they all interact with each other is great to read. Possession is a great novel, and I feel anyone who works in academia will love it the most.


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