Originally published October 27th, 2012
So. Good. I was sucked in right from the first page. There are so many layers and nuances to this book: Ash’s and LaMotte’s poetry, batches of letters, excerpts of other books (fictional and actual); I could see myself reading this book over and over again. Each revelation gave a new perspective on everything else. Byatt constantly switches viewpoints and styles of narration: third person, first person, poetry written by her characters. She does a marvelous, effortless job of writing in a variety of voices. Unlike other books I’ve read that employ this device, I didn’t have any trouble keeping track of who was talking or what was going on. I especially enjoyed her inclusion of Ash’s and LaMotte’s works; as their lives unfurled it added so much depth and perspective to be able to go back and re-read a poem with the new information. Even better was including partial quotes in the early chapters, and the whole poems later on; so you get a slight nuance and think you know what’s going on and then she hits you with more info and the full poem and it’s a whole new story. When I was reading this I completely believed that LaMotte and Ash were real writers and I wanted to look up their work. It was a surprise to learn that Byatt had invented both of them, and seals my opinion of her as a phenomenally talented writer.
The gothic elements were delicious and eerie; I wonder if author Kate Morton (The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton) was influenced by Byatt and Possession. There seemed to be a lot of similarities of method and style, with stories that start in the present and float back into history before coming around full circle to explain everything. Byatt just hints at the gothic though, Morton drenches her tales in it.
I can’t wait to read this book again.