For months he had been possessed by the imagination of her. She had been distant and closed away, a princess in a tower, and his imagination’s work had been all to make her present, all of her and the mystery, the whiteness of her, which was part of her extreme magnetism, and the green look of those piercing or occluded eyes. Her presence had been unimaginable, or more strictly, only to be imagined. Yet here she was, and he was engaged in observing the ways in which she resembled, or differed from, the woman he dreamed, or reached for in sleep, or would fight for.
There’s nothing to see here, folks. Really. I’m not even going to tell you all what the book’s about because such menial things are beyond my grasp. [Those who have read this book: Did ya see what I did thar?]
Me and this book, we have a very complicated relationship. One that can be compared to the way things are between strangers who got stuck in a stalled elevator for about four days–one is the doyenne of all things Literary, the other is a glorified bum. You don’t have to think hard about who’s whom. As apologetic as I’ve been with my inability to share my experience of good books lately, well, I suppose I’m apologizing now because this book kicked my ass, and I tried to fight back, but I have nothing to show for it but an extremely bruised brain, not to mention a strained wrist from having to lug a heavy–but very very very pretty–book around.
As much as I respect–the way one respects what one fears, harhar–A.S. Byatt‘s behemoth of a book, Possession, there’s something to be said about the first thought that came to my head when I put it down, deemed it finished: Holy cheesecake, I’M FREE. Sasha liberated from the demonic clutches of a fat book full of lit theory, lit crit, Victorian poetry, and the uber-political academe.
Oh, it’s a good book. I mean, everyone says its a good book. Ha. And from a purely objective point of view, I am very much impressed with how Byatt crafted the story. Intricately plotted, bursting with characters, and with the inclusion of so many forms to supplement the narrative–Victorian poetry, love letters, academic papers [all made by Byatt, dammit]. That’s it, it’s an impressive book. It’s intelligent, and occasionally, Oh look at me I’m intelligent. But it’s okay, because Byatt is a smart egg. [Yes, I just called A.S. Byatt a smart egg.] And the language is lush. So lush and dense sometimes, that it’s a gee-dee block. But when the words strike something in you, they strike hard:
That was the first of those long strange nights. She met him with passion, fierce as his own, and knowing too, for she exacted her pleasure from him, opened herself to it, clutched for it, with short animal cries. She stroked his hair and kissed his blind eyes, but made no more specific move to pleasure hi, the male–nor did she come to that, all those nights. It was like holding Proteus, he thought at one point, as though she was liquid moving through his grasping fingers, as though she was waves of the sea rising all round him. How many, many men have had that thought, he told himself, in how many, many places, how many climates, how many rooms and cabins and caves, all supposing themselves swimmers in salt seas, with the waves rising, all supposing themselves — no, knowing themselves — unique. Here, here, here, his head beat, his life has been leading him, it was all tending to this act, in this place, to this woman, white in the dark, to this moving and slippery silence, to this breathing end. “Don’t fight me,” he said once, and “I must,” said she, intent, and he thought, “No more speech,” and held her down and caressed until she cried out. Then he did speak again. “You see, I know you,” and she answered breathless, “Yes, I concede. You know.”
But. It’s never good when you read a book and treat it as a challenge. You don’t read it as something to be enjoyed–not even as something to immerse one’s self in, not even as something to be studied, even looked at critically. When you read a book as something whose patooty you want to kick so you can climb the nearest tower to yell, “I. Am. Victorious!”, well, something is just terribly wrong with that set-up.
Still. For what it’s worth: I read Possession, dammit! /confetti