Although A.S. Byatt has published quite a lot until now and even won the Booker prize for "Possession" I had never heard of her before I have to admit.
First a quick summary:
Obscure scholar Roland Michell, researching in the London Library, discovers handwritten drafts of a letter by the prestigious (fictional) Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, which leads him to suspect that the married Ash had a hitherto unknown romance. He feels compelled to take away the documents secretly - an unprofessional act - and begins to investigate. The trail leads him to Christabel LaMotte, a minor poet and contemporary of Ash, and to Dr. Maud Bailey, a modern LaMotte scholar and distant relative of LaMotte's family, who is drawn into helping Roland with the unfolding mystery. They become obsessed with uncovering the truth and unearth more letters and evidence of an affair between the poets, and their own personal romantic lives - neither of which are happy or even satisfactory - develop and become entwined in an echo of Ash and LaMotte, whose story is told in parallel to theirs.
Where to start!? It is definitely one of the most complex books I have read so far!
While reading it, my feelings towards it were quite mixed. I liked the story and had no troubles getting into the plot. I like Byatt's thoughtful, extremely detailed and beautiful language.
The downside: The book includes many (fictive) Victorian poems as well...and unfortunately I'm not a big fan of poetry. So I caught myself skipping some of them...But I promise I will give them my full attention and concentration when I will re-read the novel (which will certainly happen one day!).
The Victorian characters are presented in-depth, the modern ones are more stereotypical and two-dimensional. There is a lot of parody going on but probably not everyone will understand it. It's an absolute feast for lovers of fairy tales, myths and intertextual references in general - if you don't wanna know about that you will miss out a lot and might get overwhelmed more than once.
The plot is well crafted but for me it had a bit too much of a Dan Brown feel to it towards the end.
Of course I'm biased as I did read a lot of secondary literature about it while preparing for my exam.
The more you find out, the more you discover in the story...a book with some lengths but stunning in literary terms while still being entertaining enough for "normal" readers.
Not an easy read but so worth it (and so much worth it than watching the film adaptation)!