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Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (1990)

Roland Michell is a literary scholar who specializes in the work of one Victorian poet, Randolph Ash.  One day, while conducting research, he comes across a draft of a letter, written by Ash to an unknown woman, and for Roland, an obsession is born. 

Part literary romance, part epistolary novel, and part detective story, Possession examines the ways in which life affects literature, and the ways in which literature affects life.  Byatt juggles voices flawlessly; each letter, each poem, and each character are completely distinct from each other, switching back and forth from Victorian to contemporary styles.  The story told in correspondence and poems is deeply sad, and touching, in the way that Victorian poems often are, and the modern story is full of hope.

Readers should be aware that this is not an easy or quick read.  The book starts slowly, each event building on the next, and the language is dense; it requires close reading.  But as the characters become more obsessed, the book itself becomes more absorbing, until it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

Fans of the fairy tales and epics of Victorian literature should not miss this novel; Byatt includes exerpts and entire texts of poems written by the fictional characters, and they are every bit as lovely as those by Tennyson or Shelley or Byron.

Rating: A

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