Monday, September 7, 2009

Possession...or how Byatt needs more editing on occasion

Not that anyone other than Cathy reads this, or pretends to anyway, but I have to write because I have finally finished Possession by A.S. Byatt. I am conflicted as to how I feel about it. My sister asked how many stars I would give it out of five and I was giving it four until I remembered how Byatt cheated. Here are the complaints:

1) She cheated. Balls out cheated. I'll say the same thing of any other writer who does this, but I was surprised when Byatt did. I thought she would have thought better of her audience than to pander to us. See, we spend the majority of the book in the present (or really the 1980s) looking back at things written from the late 1850s. We are in the present, the story is in the present, but we are looking at texts from the past. Ninety-nine percent of the book fits that mold, and then Byatt cheats and gives us bits of the past that we would not know from what we have in the present. And it didn't really add to the book, it provided no great insight. And the final one was the biggest cheat of all, it was pandering.

2) The unnecessary bits. If you read it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't and decide you are going to read it, take my advice and skip or skim sections you feel you are going to die of boredom in. Yes, I just said skip. Trust me, I skipped, and here's why: I am not a literary scholar. I like a good mystery, but when a book is longer than 500 pages and I have to read the journal of a teenage Breton girl, I will skip and skim. If I am given pages upon pages of a poem that drags on, I am going to skip it. Maybe "Swammerdam" had a brilliance I couldn't see, but then it wasn't really meant for me was it?

3) The Cropper chapter. So unnecessary. I almost stopped reading there. Really, I did, then I felt guilty and skipped him instead.

4) Being made to research like the two main characters. If I wanted to do that, I would be doing that, not reading a novel for enjoyment.

However, I did really like the book. I liked Maud and adored Roland. I liked them and the story much more than the film, which I bugged my sister about trying to remember (plus I decided that Aaron Eckhart [although a decent enough guy and generally good actor] was miscast and not because he played Roland as an American, but because he has a confidence he can't really shed). I did feel involved in it (although I was a cheat because I already knew the kicker), I flipped the pages eagerly at the end for the resolution. It is a novel of great feeling, which I appreciate. But I still say Byatt cheated.

I should also add that mid-book, I stopped. I couldn't take it. I closed the book and thought I'd never return. I think it was in the middle of a letter that told me nothing about nothing. During that pause, I read Pride and Prejudice and was reminded how much I love Austen. We should note here that it was easier to read a book written in the early nineteenth century than a book written in the 1980s. And now, I am with Wuthering Heights. I desperately want to understand why reading about England seems natural to me while in tropical Guam.

No comments: