Reviewed by Renée Bosman, Government Information Librarian
Possession begins when Roland, a scholar of the fictitious Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, discovers a letter Ash wrote to Christabel LaMotte, one of the era's first feminist writers. Roland's sleuthing for more information regarding a possible link between the two poets leads him to Maud Bailey, a somewhat haughty and distanced LaMotte scholar. The two embark on a quest together, determined to uncover the truth and find out the extent of the Ash-LaMotte relationship, which could radically alter their lives' work and scholarship. Their journey takes them to the English countryside and France as they unearth old letters and journals that weave the story of this previously unknown romance.
A simple plot summary does not even begin to do justice to this multi-layered novel. Byatt's narrator presents the parallel stories of the present-day scholars and their Victorian subjects through a variety of literary forms, including poetry, letters, diary entries and fairy tales. This postmodern romance also tackles some interesting themes, such as the nature of literary biography and scholarship in light of our incomplete access to the full truth about the stories of authors' lives. Yet for all its intellectualism and wealth of literary allusions, the narrative of Possession seldom lags, and you will soon find yourself wrapped up in the mystery surrounding Ash and LaMotte, which increasingly consumes Maud and Roland. Possession won the 1990 Booker Prize.