Sunday, 26 August 2012

Book of the week: Possession

I have always been fascinated by books in which the reader knows more than the characters. I mean, through the end, so that the poor characters never reach the solution of the mysteries. I find it disturbing, but it is perhaps the point. The book I remember best in this respect, probably not worth remembering at all, is that old bestseller Forever Amber that we girls all read as teenagers. It is easy to forget because there is so much happening in the book, but there is a prologue from which it is clear that Amber is not a simple peasant girl but the daughter of noble parents. Not that it changes anything, but she never learns it, and nobody else knows it except the reader.

In one of the marvellous books by the contemporary Russian mystery novel genius Boris Akunin, there are parallel plots, one in the 16th century Moscow, the other in our time. The reader knows where the treasure is hidden and how to find it, but the character misses the final clue.

A S Byatt's Possession is brilliant in tons of manners that I am sure critics have written about. I cannot imagine how I have managed to neglect it until now. It keeps the reader in tension throughout: will the characters find out what the reader has been given privileged knowledge of? Yes, they do, take a deep breath – and then comes the epilogue, and everything is upside down again, and the characters are left in ignorance.

I am a Bear of Very Little Brain. I like books that leave me frustrated.

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