Introducing the Possession Readalong

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Love and betrayal. Living history, rife with passion and scandal. Mysteries hidden and unravelled: these form the heart of A.S. Byatt’s complex, achingly lovely, incredibly intelligent Possession. An illicit romance between two Victorian poets, and the affair’s wide-ranging consequences, remains hidden for over a century until, in modern-day England, two scholars who specialize in the works of these poets stumble onto their secret. And that secret threatens to cause just as much of a mess in 1990 as it did in the 1800s.

The eminent Randolph Henry Ash and the obscure Christabel Lamotte should barely have crossed paths, let alone conducted a dizzying affair that shook social mores and ruined lives. And how could it have stayed hidden all these years? Ash expert Roland Michell and Lamotte expert Maud Bailey go on the hunt for clues to better understand the mysterious letters Roland has discovered. But the stakes are upped monumentally when others join the chase, and when Roland’s and Maud’s very reputations could be disgraced.

From séances, theosophy, and faerie lore to the constraints imposed by imperialism, paternalism, and social class, A.S. Byatt creates a mesmerizing mystery and a sweeping love story. Told not just in third-person narrative but also through letters, diaries, and the works of the poets themselves, Byatt shows a chameleon-like ability to embody different voices in different media. This book is also at once a critique of modern academia and of notions of progress in both the Victorian and modern eras; it is an examination of femininity and masculinity and sexuality, of power and oppression, and, of course, it is about possession: of an object, of knowledge, of a lover, of a secret.

Continue reading “Introducing the Possession Readalong”

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The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök

Ragnarök offers a chance to peek into the author’s mind.

“There are two ways, in stories, of winning battles—to be supremely strong, or to be a gallant, forlorn hope. The Ases were neither. They were brave and tarnished.”

Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt

This is not exactly a novel. Not exactly fiction, not exactly autobiography, not exactly allegory. Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt’s reweaving of the Norse cycle of myths is, for such a short book, epic. Ragnarök is part of the Canongate Myth Series, which since 1999 has published retellings of famous myths by accomplished authors the world over (you might recognize Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad or Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ from the list of Canongate titles).

Ragnarök loosely tells the story of the thin child, an otherwise unnamed waif who is a loose representation of Byatt in her childhood, sent to the English countryside during World War II. She finds herself surrounded by flora and fauna that differs greatly from her city world, and she finds a book about the Norse gods, written by a meticulous German scholar, that opens up her imaginative playground and, indeed, her world view. We follow her as she traipses, book-bag in one hand and gas-mask in the other, through fields of flowers and dreamscapes of great Norse battles, puzzling out what she believes to be true about the world around her. Continue reading “The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök”