Possession Possession: a romanceA. S. Byatt; Vintage Books 1991WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder Possession is an impressive book. If it were only a novel, it would be worth reading. The characters are complex and interesting. The story is suspenseful. The settings are interesting and well-described. But the impressive thing about this book is that the author has created a world of other writings: the poetry of the two fictional Victorian poets, the critical writings of several literature scholars, letters and diaries. All the works are so different from one another that I had to google the poets to make sure they were fictional.

Will I have it read in time for Book Club? Possibly not. I procrastinated about beginning it, and then got busy and ran out of time. I may have to skim the ending and then go back and finish it later.

Over the weekend, #2 daughter told us about a fellow student who used “How is your walk with God?” as a conversational opener. She told it as a funny story, with her helpless reaction as the humor, and most of us saw it immediately: the conversation opener which is really a conversation stopper. Like the “How do I look?” which makes the listener run frantically through all sorts of possible responses, knowing that only one — but which one? — will not lead to hurt feelings. Or the little verbal clues that let you know that the person who has come in is not a prospective client, but an insurance salesman. We all know that feeling, when a conversation turns us into a deer in the headlights, trying to figure out how to escape.

However, one of our number was accustomed to this conversational sally. He knew what was supposed to come next. When someone asks you about your walk with God, he explained, you answer with the kinds of things that you have been struggling with in your spiritual life, or what you have been reading on the subject. Armed with this knowledge, we can now have a satisfying conversation with those who use this gambit, instead of shunning them.

Mary Alice was telling me, too, how as a therapist she was able to help kids who are bullied to change the body language they use so that they no longer walk around saying, “I’m a victim! Pick on me!” She was talking about my kids, and the level of confidence they have, which ensures that they can manage in new social settings, even if they are shy or small or eccentric (and I will not say which of my kids have these characteristics).

Possession shows amazing control over language. Hardly anyone has so much control over language that they can write poetry that seems to have been written by two different people. In our daily lives, very small additions to our stock of control over language can make the difference between social success and failure. Or between a sense of helplessness and confidence. Or a desire to escape people who are different from us and an enjoyment of their differences.