Saturday, December 27, 2008

Unwriting (Books - Possession by A. S. Byatt)

I have finished my re-read of Possession by A. S. Byatt. It has been so long since the first time I read it that I was almost reading for plot all over again, but I think I was able to read for structure and the pleasures of her writing with more skill this time through. To add one observation to my previous posts, I admired not only what Byatt created by writing in multiple voices and multiple forms, but also what she created via omission. Evidence for a relationship between poets Randolph Ash and Cristabel LaMotte accumulated throughout the book through letters, diaries, and poems of its Victorian era characters, and that could have amounted to nothing but a writing exercise, but Byatt's creation of Ellen, Randolph Ash's wife, grounded the story in the details and the emotions of everyday life. Ellen adds a sadness and a beauty to the book and toward its end, Byatt creates a scene in which Ellen writes a letter in her head which she never sends. Of course Byatt writes that scene so that we read it, thus writing the unwritten thoughts and feelings of this character. By extension, her unwritten words go unread, but meanwhile the involved reader creates 'what ifs' that enrich the novel through possibility. We live not only in the actuality of the ways things turn out but also momentarily in the possible alternatives. We can wish for them or dread them just as Ellen did, but finally we have to come down to earth, and live out only one of them. I really loved this un-writing, if you will, which felt not like a technique Byatt applied, it rather flowed naturally from the details that I had come to know as Ellen's character, and it leant this scene a most life-like sad sweetness.

For my other thoughts about Possession take a look here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Next up: Man in the Holocene by Max Frisch.


Unknown said...

I've moved this book back to my TBR shelf. You've convinced me I need to re-read it. I loved it the first time around and have been a little afraid of taking a second look, for fear it might not live up to my memory of it.

But I think I'll give it another go this year.

Ted said...

CBJ - I would be interested to hear your insights, given your taste in writing.