Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Possession (in audio) ~ by A. S. Byatt



Review by Shellie:  Possession ~ by A.S. Byatt  (in audio, performed by Virginia Leishman)

A multilayered award winning tale of interwoven romances. Set in two different centuries and connected ingeniously through letters and journals. It has elements which include faeries, myth, poetry, science, feminism, lgbt, and Victoriana.

Setting:  Primarily set in the late 1980s in London we have a variety of academics whose interests lie in a celebrated poet’s life and work - Randolph Henry Ash. He is a source of intense exploration and historical interest for these scholars, as they research his body of work in their highly competitive environment. From their findings on his life during the mid to late 1800’s it appears Ash led a very quiet and uneventful life. But as one researcher finds out via misplaced letters, they are very wrong.

Thus begins the recovery of the missing pieces that will fill in the blanks for this group of academics, who become ever more obsessed as they struggle to be the first to piece together the juicy details that are alluded to in the new findings. As two of the scholars try and answer their questions they find themselves traipsing to various areas in England and France to find the answers.

Sound simple? Not a chance - there is so much more. This convoluted story will take you back to a very different time, but there is also a wealth of incredible subplots and threads.

Thoughts:  I started and abandoned Possession several times. Giving up on try number two, I thought the writing to be inaccessible, overly intellectual and boringly academic. Now I am thinking one develops “reading muscles”, and considering my years of hiatus from reading fiction I was out of shape. Having read bits about the book’s elements since, I realized the book fits inside a favorite circle of my interests. I gave it another try in audio.

This unabridged audio version was read by Virginia Leishman, and she moderates her voice for each of the character’s while changing accents - ranging from English to Scottish to American and with a believable voice for changes in gender. Excellently done, my only “complaint” is that the narrator’s voice is so pleasant she lulled me to sleep on various occasions. So listening while tired or sleepy is not recommended.

The novel has some interesting elements and literary techniques interwoven inside it. These include threads about fairies, what appears to be paranormal events, and scientific research – including the collection of insect, plant and sea life (all popular with the gentry during Victorian times). The author also expertly uses several literary devices; for example, the usage of poetry as a preclusion to the chapters called epigraphs. Through this method the author has written and included some complex poetry. Lastly the story is told via letters and journal entries making it epistolary. 

Not a fluffy romance, it is a complex, realistic yet sad romance – where real life choices and their consequences are exemplified and I liked that it does not end with everyone living happily ever after. In summary, Possession is out of the ordinary, intellectual and academic – making it a book that not everyone will enjoy. It is also descriptive, metaphorical, dense and an amazing work of fiction. It deserves a rare 5 stars in my opinion.

US|UK|Canada; Duration: 22 hours, 45 minutes Dec 21, 2004; Unabridged; HarperCollins – HarperAudio  Awards: Best Audio Books - Library Journal; Man Booker Prize for Fiction -1990.

yellow and purple savvy poetry 2011

Although not completely poetry, Possession includes poems and the story is about poets.

I am thinking that for readers who are not all that excited about poetry this book could be a perfect way to honor - National Poetry Month in April. So, with that in mind, I am including this review in Savvy Verse & Wit’s celebration.

It will also be included in several other challenges including – Fill in the Gaps; LGBT Challenge and others to be determined.

Thanks for reading.


Julie @ Read Handed said...

I loved Possession. I actually had to read it for a college course on the English novel (it represented a modern example). I loved how the different layers worked together and gave it more depth than I was ever willing to unravel. It has so many different elements, though, that I can't imagine it as an audio book. Was that confusing at all?

Side note, have you seen the movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow (I think?)?

Unknown said...

Hi Julie -
I agree... :)

I have not seen the movie yet. I try and not watch the movies before I read the book since they spoil it for me - most of the time...Is the movie any good?

I really enjoyed this amazing book. I am so glad I gave it another try. Its funny my husband is having the same response I had about it when I first attempted it... lol... he says it sounds boring and snobby...

Unknown said...

Oh sorry - to answer your question the audio version was amazing... highly recommended not confusing at all.

Serena said...

I have not read this...but it sounds interesting. Not sure I would be able to read it if the language is too academic.

Unknown said...

Serena -
If you read Pride and Prejudice you can read this... :)

And you could - like me - listen to it.

Jenny said...

I've been a bit too scared to reread Possession since the first time I read it. I thought it was brilliant the first time (apart from, I did skip some of the poetry, Romantic poetry was never really my thing), and I've never liked anything else by AS Byatt nearly as much. I'm afraid rereading would spoil my good memories!

James Garcia Jr said...

Forgive me, my friend. I'm not usually oblivious to the fact that something was a book first, but somehow I missed this fact. My wife and I are big fans of the film. It resides on my DVD shelf and we watch it every couple of years or so. I'm guessing it has been changed quite a bit, but you'd probably be a better judge of that, having read the book. Lord knows when I'd get the chance to read it?!?
Take care and thanks for the info.


Unknown said...

Jenny -
I thought the same thing would happen with re-reads of an all time favorite - My Antonia. I have read it 3 times since my first read close to 30 years ago. Each time I love and enjoy it just as much.

The great thing is I wait just long enough to forget what the story is all about... *big smile*

This audio version is so nice - and perhaps you could get through the poetry this time... GO FOR IT!!! I bet your local library has the audio version on offer.

Jimmy (aka James)...

So you all liked the film? well then I will have to watch it. I was going to give it a miss - since Patltrow is a bit wishy washy for my tastes.

I do recommend as a writer that you read it - just to see her set up. She has done such an amazing job linking all the threads and literary devices.... really! such a treat.


Anna said...

I like books to challenge me sometimes but not go too overboard on the academic language. I've heard good things about this book, though, and hope to give it a try someday.

Unknown said...

Anna -
I don't think you will have a problem with it... but hey you never can tell.

I did abandon it a couple of times but that was because the first few chapters are a bit of a slog... it does get really juicy if you stick with it.

Will be curious as to what you think about it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...