Where to even start?
Well, I’ll start with the obvious–I love this book. It gives me the chills. It intrigues, entrances, and enchants me.
The story is this: two academics–the serious, professionally floundering Roland and the detached and haughty Maud–make a discovery. The two Victorian poets that they study appear to have had a secret correspondence which scholars had never guessed at. As they start following the rabbit trail of one unfinished letter, more documents emerge and pieces of the story start falling into place. Gripped by this unfolding story, Roland and Maud start unearthing clues and traveling together, determined to follow this 19th century drama to its conclusion. They travel through England, to a crumbling old estate, to the coast, to France, and finally to a graveyard, driven by that wonderful motivator: plot!
The book is composed of straight-up narrative, old journals by a variety of authors, letters, and the work of these two Victorian poets, Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The myriad points of view make the story rich and compelling. One of the things that astounds me is how much of a voice these two poets have. It’s a testament to the amazing skills of A.S. Byatt that after reading the novel for the first time, I thought these two poets really existed. I thought Byatt was just reproducing large swaths of their work, but no–she made them up. And then wrote the most beautiful poetry in each of their distinct (and distinctly Victorian) styles.
This book is a romance embedded in a romance, a mystery, and an adventure. There is some sex, but nothing insane. It’s beautifully written, the characters are painfully imperfect and gloriously alive, passionate and creative. Seriously, this book will grip you in the gut and hang on to your heart until the very end. Nab it from your library or on you e-reader! And a cup of Irish breakfast tea (with a little milk and sugar) is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon immersed in these pages.