Skip to content

DNF: A. S. Byatt – Possession

February 3, 2014

DNF. Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990)

Length: 576 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Started: 04 January 2014
Finished: DNFed 15 January 2014 on p. 166

Where did it come from? Friends of the Library booksale.
Why do I have it? I think this may have been recommended to me as a book with parallel contemporary/historical storylines, which I love.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 October 2007.

So this is not a normal review, because I decided to quit this book without finishing. (DNF = Did Not Finish) I do this very, very, very rarely – this marks my 10th DNFed book ever. So, my review is less a normal review of the book, and more of an explanation of why I decided to give it up.

Summary: Roland Mitchell is a literary scholar who has spent his life studying the life and works of the Victorian poet Randolph Ash. When he uncovers a draft of a letter from Ash to some unnamed female poet, he believes they may open a door onto a new understanding of the man. He believes the letter was written to Christabel LaMotte, and to find out more, he’s thrown into the path of Maud Bailey, a scholar of LaMotte’s. Together, they work together to uncover more about the relationship between Ash and LaMotte, and while they’re at it, start to discover a relationship of their own.

…I’m assuming. By page 166, when I quit, they were still being frosty and awkward towards each other.

Review: This book is tough. It’s tough to read, which is why I quit, but it’s also tough to quit. I had every intention of liking this book. The premise is interesting, I like books about books, I like a good love story, I like mirroring present and historical storylines. Also, so many people whose opinions I not only know and respect, but which also overlap with mine on many other books, so many of those people absolutely adore this book.

And the thing is, I can tell there’s a story in this book that I should like. I didn’t dislike what I read of the book. But it is very dense, very densely written, lots of interspersed poems and Victorian letters and extensive descriptions of bathroom furnishings (seriously, at least two multi-paragraph incidents in the first 166 pages.) And I was trying to read it at a time when I was very busy, and simply did not have the attention to devote that this book demands. As a consequence, reading it was feeling like a chore, something I had to try to do, something I had to force myself to go back to, and that’s an awful way to go about things. So I quit.

But it’s not quite a regular DNF, since I’m not purging this book from my library. (Although I did count it as off my TBR pile for my January stats.) I’m going to hang on to it, in the hopes that at some point (hopefully some point soon) I will have a little more time and a little more attention and a little more motivation to go back to it and see if I can find out what exactly about this book makes everyone I know rave about it.

(Although goodness, this book makes me so glad I was not an English major. This kind of slavish obsession with every word and every movement and every thought of one comparably minor writer just seems like such a small life. I’m sure there are plenty of English majors who would look at my dissertation topic and think the same thing, but there it is. I just don’t have that form and depth of literary analysis in me.)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Plenty of people over at the Book Blogs Search Engine who’ve actually finished the book and can give you more informed opinions than I.

First Line: The book was thick and black and covered with dust.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 19: “They were back to back on the long side-walls each with their Habitat anglepoise, Roland’s black, Val’s rose-pink.” – a balanced-arm lamp designed in 1932 by British designer George Carwardine.
  • p. 45: “They went up in a paternoster lift that cranked regularly past its otherwise vacant portals.” – a continuous-operation multicar passenger elevator.
  • p. 52: “I am no blind mouldiwarp, my Lady, nor no well-trained lady’s maid to turn my head and not see what is stated not to concern me.” – mole.
  • p. 60: ““Hard for modern children to stomach who grieve for the Gadarene swine.”” – An ancient city of Palestine southeast of the Sea of Galilee. It was one of the Greek cities of the Decapolis.
  • p. 110: “But Beatrice, with what he saw as a truly English costiveness and dilettantism, continued to sit and shuffle and wonder about meanings and facts, getting nowhere at all, and apparently quite comfortable, like the obstructive sheep in Alice Through the Looking-Glass.” – Slow; sluggish.
  • p. 113: “It was his son, Sharman M. Cropper, who rode North in those troubled days in search of a living and was, so family legend runs, transfixed by the sight of my great-grandmother addressing an open-air meeting on the Fourierist principles of Harmony and the duty to prosecute a search for free passion and pleasure.” – A system for social reform advocated by Charles Fourier in the early 19th century, proposing that society be organized into small self-sustaining communal groups.
  • p. 114: “Whether from passion or opportunism I do not know, he attached himself to her following and thus came in 1868 to New Mexico when a group of them attempted to found a phalanstery.” – A self-sustaining cooperative community of the followers of Fourierism.
  • p. 119: “Cropper had repeated this tour in 1949, searching out pub and rock-formations, Roman roads and pearly becks, staying in Robin Hood’s Bay and drinking warm disagreeable brown beer, eating unspeakable neck-of-mutton stews and pieces of braised offal, which had turned his stomach.” – A small brook; a creek.
  • p. 131: “Now she could not see Roland at all, a state of affairs she marginally preferred, since she saw all male members of her quondam department as persecutors, and was unaware that Roland’s own position there was precarious, that he hardly qualified as a full-blooded departmental male.” – That once was; former.
  • p. 131: “There was a whole barbican of index boxes, thick with dust and scuffed with age, which she ruffled in interminably, talking to herself.” – A tower or other fortification on the approach to a castle or town, especially one at a gate or drawbridge.
  • p. 138: “Above his head at street level, he saw an angled aileron of a scarlet Porsche, its jaunty fin more or less at the upper edge of his window frame.” – a flap hinged to the trailing edge of an aircraft wing to provide lateral control, as in a bank or roll.
  • p. 139: “Val’s legs followed, in powder-blue stockings and saxe-blue shoes, under the limp hem of a crêpey mustard-coloured dress, printed with blue moony flowers.” – a light greyish-blue colour.
  • p. 160: “Sir George, embarrassed, reappeared with a sugar-pink winceyette nightdress and a rather splendid peacock-blue kimono embroidered with a Chinese dragon and a flock of butterflies in silver and gold.” – a plain-weave cotton fabric with slightly raised two-sided nap, similar to flannel.

© 2014 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2014 10:01 am

    I’m surprised you didn’t finish, it’s one of my most favourite books, definitely in my all-time top 10. Please do give it another go, maybe when you have more time, ore head space, because it really is worth it.

  2. February 3, 2014 12:23 pm

    I couldn’t get into this either… I might try one more time, but otherwise, I just can’t get into Byatt like other people.

  3. mia permalink
    February 3, 2014 12:36 pm

    I loved this book, but have to admit I skipped most of the poetry.

  4. February 3, 2014 6:20 pm

    Well, this probably isn’t for me either.

  5. February 3, 2014 7:38 pm

    You know, I absolutely loved this the first time I read it — couldn’t put it down! — and on a reread, I felt just the way you did: It was a slog, and I didn’t care about the stakes, and I got exhausted with all the poetry.

  6. February 4, 2014 5:37 pm

    I’m happy you’re not completely writing this one off because I do really really feel like it is worth it. I can’t even say I really loved every minute of it? But I’m so glad I read it! Even if you have to skim the poems/Victorian letters. It is aok. Also, I highly recommend the movie. Because it is funny.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: