Today I finished POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt and the more I think about the book, the more I cherish it. It's richly imagined, and richly written and involves many characters who are all likable and recognizable, if not always (though they are often) lovable.
The subtitle "A Romance" may imply a love story, which it is in part--it follows academics Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell, who fall for each other while on the trail of a love affair between the two Victorian poets they study respectively. But it's so much more than that. It's also about the love of language and poetry, the love of writing and creating art, the love you may feel for a particular time and place, for solitude, for learning. Well, you get the idea.
A warning: the beginning can be off-putting. There are poems by each Victorian poet, letters, excerpts from scholarly works by certain characters. There's also a wide cast of characters, all of whom get their time in the spotlight. The result of all this, is that you can't get into a quick reading rhythm. I think it's important to know this going in. Take breaks. Read at your leisure. The plot picks up in a natural way, eventually.
Byatt knows she doesn't have to pull any tricks to keep you reading. Every word and character is a piece of mosaic and Byatt has the pattern all worked out. Trust me, it's worth a little effort for the piece of art you can step back and admire at the end.
The ending, too, is pitch-perfect. When I finished this book I had no thoughts of, "I wish she had done this differently." Instead, I thought, "It's so sad that this happened but I was so happy about this other thing."
And perhaps the highest praise of all: When I finished POSSESSION, I felt like it was all real and true and that the story had always been there, waiting to be told.