Friday, December 21, 2007


The Book: A.S. Byatt, POSSESSION. Random House, 1990 (Book of the Month Club edition). Good condition; spine is slightly loose and cocked, dust jacket shows rubbing at top and bottom.
First read: 1990
Owned since: 1990

POSSESSION is a modern novel that concerns itself with Victorian sensibilities, so it seemed to fit into this week's set of books. On any given day, it might be my favorite book of all time. They made a dreadful movie out of it, a movie so bad it makes me shudder even to think about it -- don't watch it, ever. Read the book instead.

The book is the story of present-day scholars Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who discover a connection between their two subjects, the Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The story moves back and forth between present and past, exploring theories of storytelling, academic politics, medieval myths and more along the way. It is also a story of family lost and found, and of patterns that repeat themselves in the human experience.

It is, as I say, one of my favorite books, and I have read it at least a dozen times. It came as a Main Selection of the Book of the Month Club because I forgot to send the card back, and I picked it up with no expectations. I read it in the bathtub, in the kitchen, on the bus and at my desk because I could not bear to put it down. I had just moved into a townhouse in southern Alexandria that turned out to be a disastrous choice; one of my housemates was pure evil, the other was weak-minded and sad, and this book was more than a welcome escape before I could leave for the holidays.

I'm leaving for the holidays today, so posting between now and the end of the year will be erratic. I will post between now and Christmas, though...

What I Read This Week

Megan Abbott (ed.), A HELL OF A WOMAN. I've bought a lot of anthologies this year, and you haven't seen most of them mentioned here because I tend to graze on them, rather than reading them straight through. This one was an exception. The subtitle is "An Anthology of Female Noir," and the women here are all determined not to be victims. It's a terrific collection, but my favorites here are "High Yellow" by Libby Fischer Hellmann, a sinister story of race relations in mid-century Washington, DC, and "Cherish" by Alison Gaylin, a story about an obsessed fan with a great "Twilight Zone"-style twist.

Robert Harris, THE GHOST. A ghostwriter is strong-armed and money-whipped into writing the memoirs of a recently-retired British prime minister, who bears a (surely coincidental) resemblance to Tony Blair. Security around the memoir seems excessive, but the narrator discovers in his research that the prime minister is both more and less than he seems. It's a ripping thriller and especially fascinating to me, as ghostwriting is one of the things I do.

Robert B. Parker, SPARE CHANGE. PI Sunny Randall joins her father on a task force to hunt down a serial killer who seems to be active again after a 20-year hiatus. I think Parker's Sunny Randall series is the best work he's doing these days, and SPARE CHANGE is solid entertainment.

Paul Johnston, THE DEATH LIST. At this time of year, I try to catch up with books I missed when they came out. This one has been on my to-be-read pile since midsummer. More fool me. Matt Wells is a crime writer who's lost his publishing contract and his wife, and spends his time fighting bitterness and writer's block -- until a fan reveals himself to be a serial killer who wants Matt to write his story. To make sure Matt can't say no, the killer threatens his child, his girlfriend, and everyone Matt holds dear -- and starts killing off Matt's enemies. Graphically violent, but so well done I couldn't stop reading, with a shocking twist at the end.

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