Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One Book - One Cold - One Cure

Here’s a story about a book.

The book is Possession/ A Romance by A.S. Byatt. It was recommended to me by a good and extremely literate friend. I bought it about six months ago and started reading it – slogging my way through almost half of it before giving up.

Then, last weekend I came down with a classic, and classically debilitating, head cold. Even with a slew of cold remedies, my body demanded rest. But I do not like to rest and do nothing so I picked up Possession again.

I started from the beginning. What slogging? It was fascinating. Complicated, yes. Rich in language and plot, yes. But not slog-ish. Not by any means.

One of the promotional ‘blurbs’ at the front of the book called it “a one-woman variety show of literary styles and types.” No kidding. Each of the main characters, and a few of the minor characters – whether from 1989 or 1859 – writes things (poetry, essays, journals, and amazingly long letters). And all of these writings are woven into the narrative--verbatim.

As a sort of preface, the author quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s preface to The House of the Seven Gables: “When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude … which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel… The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present …”

‘Latitude’ yes, and in Possession, surely longitude as well. Wow! Once (finally) engaged, I could not stop until I had read the very last word on the very last page (555).

I was now in the fourth day of my head cold and recovering. Thanks, in no small measure, to an extraordinary book. Now that's a happy ending.

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