Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
Bots and Spammers are routinely purged.
I was going to thank everyone who posted on my flounce post, but I no longer have the ability to comment.
I know that some of you have blocked me from commenting, as that's your right, but now it appears BL is blocking me as well.
So here I am to say thank you anyway, and to pass along what may be rumor and may be words of wisdom.
I was lamenting about this to a friend who has rather extensive background in data base management. His response was "That looks like someone trying to boost the number of the site's users in preparation for a sale."
Over 200 new followers were added to my account overnight.
I'm done with BookLikes.
This makes me incredibly sad. I love all of you. But I see too much risk in allowing this to continue. WE the users are responsible, too.
I first read this book around 20 years ago, and I loved it then. Reading it now, and knowing the ending, I enjoyed it even more.
But . . . .
It wasn't as perfect this time around as the first. The diminution of my enjoyment wasn't due to knowing the ending but rather to knowing more -- much more -- about late 20th century literary criticism, especially late 20th century feminist literary criticism.
My undergraduate degree is in Women's Studies. I had just gone back to college in 1998, and bought this book in the fall of that year or the spring of 1999. At that point, I knew only enough about fem lit crit to be dangerous, but not enough to understand a lot of the nuances in Possession.
The writing is magnificent, and the plot intriguing. Major spoilers ahead.
Scholar Roland Michell discovers a hitherto unknown draft of a letter by [fictitious] Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash to an unknown woman. Michell's research leads him to believe the letter was intended to go to another [fictitious] Victorian poet, Christabel LaMotte. Roland enlists the aid of Maud Bailey, another scholar of Victorian poets whose specialty is LaMotte. They embark on a quest to find out if Ash and LaMotte had any connection, literary or otherwise.
Despite their best efforts at secrecy, they can't keep all their knowledge from the outside world, particularly the very close world of scholars whose specialties are Ash and LaMotte.
Mortimer Cropper is the very wealthy, very arrogant American who keeps buying up everything related to Ash he can get his hands on, legally or otherwise, to stash in his precious Stant Collection at [fictitious] Robert Dale Owen University in Harmony City, New Mexico. (For some fun, see https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Trivia/Possession)
Leonora Stern is another American, flamboyant, blatantly sexual, but sincerely interested in Christabel LaMotte. Stern is more or less friends with Maud Bailey.
Beatrice Nest is a kind of pathetic, put-upon, insecure creature, who jealously guards her speciality, which is the diary of Randolph Ash's wife, Ellen. Nest has been editing the diary/diaries her entire academic career. She's nowhere near done.
Fergus Wolff is the handsome, sexy scholar who is a kind of rival, kind of friend to Roland. Wolff once had an affair with Maud Bailey; she withdrew emotionally afterward.
James Blackadder is Roland's boss. Blackadder is a foremost authority on Randolph Henry Ash in England; he just wishes he had Cropper's money to acquire all the goodies and keep them on their native soil.
Val (I've forgotten her last name!) is Roland's long-time girlfriend, flatmate, fuck buddy, and financial support, since he doesn't make much as a part-time tutor and researcher. They sort of love each other, but they sort of don't, but both of them have a sense of obligation to each other.
Those are the main characters, and there are a few others who play important roles.
Most authors can give their various characters distinctive voices and personalities, but Byatt has taken it one gigantic step further. She has included scads and scads of [fictitious] source material: Ash's poetry, LaMotte's poetry, their letters, Ellen Ash's diary, Blanche Glover's suicide note, LaMotte's cousin's diary (though not in the original French), excerpts from Cropper's published works, excerpts from discarded drafts of Blackadder's academic work, and more.
As Roland and Maud make one discovery after another, taking protective possession of their new-found knowledge, this reader was usually half a step ahead of them, sometimes more.
Despite their best attempts at secrecy, Roland and Maud know that they and their discoveries going to be . . . discovered. Sure enough, Mortimer Cropper is hot on their trail in his big black Mercedes and his fat wad of cash.
And that's where Possession lost its perfect rating.
There are references to a box that Ellen Ash buried with Randolph, a box that may contain documents relative to the "mystery" of Randolph and Christabel. The box wasn't opened when Ellen herself was buried a few years later, but now Cropper wants to know what's in it. He petitions to have the grave opened, but there are legal difficulties, so he arranges to dig up the grave, in a remote country churchyard, in dead (pun intended) of night and steal the box. He utilizes Randolph Henry Ash's heir (via another branch of the family, as Randolph and Ellen had no children) to provide some dubious legal cover.
And that's what I meant by the resemblance to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. All these main characters, and a few minor ones, converge on the country churchyard. Cropper is foiled, the box is recovered and opened, and a few more secrets are revealed.
But it seemed so silly. It seemed there could have been a more believable method of obtaining the box than anyone thinking they could dig up an almost 100-year-old grave, remove the box, then put everything back the way it was and no one would notice. It was just too eye-rollingly dumb.
There was another reason why I just can't give this book a perfect rating: Byatt too often broke the fourth wall and did it too clumsily.
It's one thing to have an omniscient third-person viewpoint. It's another thing entirely for the third-person narrator to even indirectly address the reader. "But So-and-so didn't know that yet and wouldn't learn the truth for some time to come." That sort of thing. There were only a couple instances, but they were a couple too many. Byatt had created this almost flawless world of Victorian literature and culture and history as well as its 20th century scholars, then destroyed it with these odd little stage asides.
The worst, however, was
Possession is a terrific novel, definitely worthy of the 1990 Booker Prize. But it's not an easy novel to fully appreciate.
According to Wikipedia --
Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In 'Possession' I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader's imaginative entry into the world of the text.
While her intention may have been to heighten the reader's imaginative entry into the text, I found it just the opposite. It reminded me even more firmly that I as a reader was completely outside the text, outside the action, outside the characters' whose stories were being told -- Randolph and Christabel, Roland and Maud.
Also for that reason, I took exception to the plot point that Ash never knew of Christabel's child.
Ellen knew -- because Christabel's companion and unconfirmed lover Blanche Glover had told her so. And Christabel herself had given Ellen a letter to give to Ash with all the particulars, though Ellen never did so. The one encounter between Ash and LaMotte after the affair and after the child's birth -- at a seance that Ash disrupted -- revealed to him that there had been a child, though not whether it still lived or not.
The final scene of the book(show spoiler)
Though it's already been established that Maud Bailey is herself the descendant of that child, the assumption remains that Ash himself never knew.
I think he did.
I finished this last night but need a day or so to put all my thoughts in order. Many, many layers to this one.
Although I give it five stars, it's more like 4.75.
The pieces are falling into place. The race is on.
And for some reason I'm reminded of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
As it turned out, there were two quotes I wanted to make note of.
He saw, or thought he saw, how those qualities had been disguised or overlaid by more conventional casts of expression --- an assumed modesty, an expedient patience, a disdain masking itself as calm. At her worst -- oh, he saw her clearly, despite her possession of him --- at her worst she would look down and sideways and smile demurely, and this smile would come near a mechanical simper, for it was an untruth, it was a convention, it was her brief, constricted acknowledgement of the world's expectations.
He would change all that. He could change all that, he was tolerably certain. He knew her, he believed. He would teach her that she was not his possession, he would show her she was free, he would see her flash her wings.
Because there is a quote on page 302 I want to copy but not while I'm on the kindle with its crappy keyboard.
My time the past several days has been taken up with rocks, as I try to take advantage of spring weather before it gets too hot, so I've usually fallen into bed, read a few pages, and succumbed quickly to exhaustion. But I persist because this book is so wonderful.
What makes it such a tour de force, I think, is that it's written by so many different characters, each with their own voice, each with their own secrets.
Though I know how the book ends, I don't remember exactly how all the little pieces fit together. So far, there are two big questions I'm looking for the answers to.
So we'll see what happens. It's raining today, which means no time on the rock saw, but I think my back is telling me it needs a rest anyway. I do NOT need a return of the screaming muscle spasms that are threatening again.
UPDATE AT THE END
I'll post pics as I get them.
It was 2-2 at the end of regulation, but Morris Knolls still had to kill 3:19 of major roughing penalty going into overtime.
Overtime, per info from reporter at nj.com, is sudden death five on five (less any penalties remaining from regulation) for 15 minutes, then if still tied drops to 7.5 minutes of four on four.
Morris Knolls killed the rest of the penalty, then scored the winning goal maybe a minute or so after returning to full strength.
I still don't have any reaction from my daughter.
Will get more details from her and from nj.com as they're available.
When I talked to Rachel, she still hadn't talked to Elliot because he was still with the team. They would go back to the school on the team bus, then be met at the school by fire trucks to escort them . . . wherever.
Elliot (#29) on the right congratulating team-mates at the win.
(All photos from nj.com)
Team photo with trophy, Elliot is the kid on the far right with the crown.
Rachel said at one point during the game the students from Morris Knolls Hills (the team is combined from two schools) were chanting "He's a freshman, he's a freshman," because Elliot is in his first year at Morris Hills.
Will post more updates as I get them.
Interview on Twitter:
Morris Knolls will start second period with a 5-4 advantage.
My daughter is at Prudential Center. Will post pictures from her later.