Is there anyone else out there who loves a big, thick, old-fashioned novel that is written with such sparkle and fluidity that you dive right in and only come up for air at three am when your vision shuts down and your bed has become a raft on the ocean of that new world? A.S. Byatt’s Possession is one such book for me. As a playwright for many decades, I had gotten into the habit of reading plays and doing theatre, so my early love of Dickens and Dostoyevsky, of George Eliot and Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, was as soft and faded a memory as an album of old photographs.
So when I came across Possession, I whined (to myself), “It’s too long!” No love at first sight. I had to tell myself not to judge a book by its size. Open it, see what’s inside. Go on a second date.
And I fell in love. I loved the literary race run by Byatt’s collection of academics, all snails and sloths, turtles and toads, mice and moles, scurrying to be the first to reach the source material about the relationship between two 19th-century poets. I loved the back and forth between the contemporary and the past, between the protagonists, Roland and Maud, who knew they were in love with literature before they knew they were in love with each other. I loved Byatt’s wit, the whitecaps on that ocean, and her language, the dolphins at play. This big book enjoys that wonderful paradox exclusive to big books, where length equals depth. Not all big books, but this big book.
Here’s to big books! Here’s to tomes and the sheer weight of their words! Here’s to my first love whom I took to my bed every night in my youth, and have done so again.
I’m talking about books.
Florence Gibson MacDonald was born in Montreal and raised in Cobourg, Ontario. She has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and genetics and an MD. She lived and worked in Hong Kong, East Africa, and the Arctic before settling in Ontario and eventually leaving medicine to write fulltime. Her plays have been produced in Canada, the US, and England. Her award-winning plays include Belle, Home Is My Road, Missing, How Do I Love Thee? and the innovative tap dance show, i think i can. She is writing her novel My Heart and I, and more short stories are upcoming in The Dalhousie Review and Understory Magazine. Her story “Big Top” appeared in The Fiddlehead no. 281 (Autumn, 2019).