#readbyatt: Update the First

by Kim on March 11, 2013 · 15 comments

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Woo! I made it through the first six chapters of Possession! This is a feat I have never accomplished, so I feel like a read-a-long winner no matter what happens next. If you’re reading along, I hope you’ve made it this far too.

I’m not sure how to structure these updates, so I’m just going to meander and see where this goes. Feel free to join up the conversation in the comments or leave links to your posts there too (I’ll watch today and make sure they don’t get sent to spam).

Our Story So Far

The year is 1986 (the year I was born, interestingly enough). Dr. Roland Martin, a middle-of-the-road scholar of 17th century poet Randolph Henry Ash, discovers the drafts of two letters buried in the middle of one of Ash’s old books. The letters appear to be love letters, of a kind, that are unprecedented in Ash scholarship. Roland steals the letters from the book, intent on figuring them out.

After some investigation, Roland comes to believe the letters may be to Christabel LaMotte, a minor poet of the same period who is of some interest to feminist scholars. Roland’s mentor suggests visiting Maud Bailey, a scholar familiar with LaMotte at a university that houses many of LaMotte’s unpublished papers. Roland goes to see Maud, shares his theory, and the two of them decide to take a trip to LaMotte’s grave (or something related to the estate, I can’t remember).

While visiting, they run into the current caretakers of the LaMotte property who invite them in for tea. While exploring LaMotte’s room, Maud discovers a cache of hidden letters between Ash and LaMotte — a scholarly gold mine! But the caretakers — particularly cantankerous and suspicious Sir George — won’t let them take the letters and they leave empty-handed.

Meanwhile, competing scholar Mortimer Copper, who by all accounts seems to be a creep, is going out of his way to buy up all of the Ash memorabilia he can find. </End Section>

Some Thoughts On the Book

I went into this first section of the book hoping to figure out why I’ve started and stopped reading this book multiple times. The answer is, I’m afraid, that the beginning of this book is boring:

Point 1: Roland is a bland narrator to start out this story. I mean, come on. The guy is a part-time scholar who self-describes as a “latecomer” to interesting things with (it appears) an unpleasant girlfriend. He’s bland like dry toast.

Maud, in contrast, is infinitely more interesting. I love the turban and the detail about why she uses it to cover her hair that is revealed while she’s getting ready for bed. More of that, please!

Point 2: The epistolary format doesn’t let the novel get any momentum. Every time the plot seems to be ready to take a leap forward, the book makes a left turn to insert some sort of extra text — another letter, a chapter from a book, a short story, a poem — that are, I’m sure, significant… but not what I need to get into this story. I usually love epistolary details in novels, but in this case I’m not invested enough in the rest of the story to want to read through the extra-textual bits to get back to anything or spend the mental energy to think about what the point is. Give me some plot, please!

(Clearly, reading this one right after listening to A Discovery of Witches, which also starts out with discovering a manuscript in a library, was a bad plan. That book is all plot.)

But chapter six ends with some intrigue — the introduction of dastardly (maybe?) scholar Mortimer Cropper, however creepy, brings some drama — and I’m looking forward to the next section.

Burning Questions Going Forward

  • Will Roland ever become more interesting? Please, reading gods, I hope so.
  • Is Mortimer Cropper really as much of a creeper as he appears? Are the “other photographs of which he had a large and varied collection” as gross as I think they will be?
  • What will happen to the letters? And what is up with Sir George (not a fun dude)?
  • And what is up with all the commentary on feminists at the digs at the Womens’ Studies department? Are these jokes? Commentary from Byatt? I don’t know how to read that at all.

What did you think of the first section of this book? Any predictions for our next section, Chapters 7 – 13, set to be finished on Monday, March 18?

You can also read Lu’s reaction to this section here. Happy Monday!

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