Is the book Possession as badly written as the first five minutes of the film?

3 minutes in: “You’re that American that’s over here.” Brilliant.

4 minutes in: Rich American professor ponders why the poor Irish professor even bothers showing up for auctions at Sotheby’s.

6 minutes in: He couldn’t look obvious stealing the letter from the library if he tried.

7 minutes in: I guess when they are not buying rare manuscripts at Sotheby’s scholars spend all there money paying for spacious London flats.

8 minutes in: even his solicitor landlord is a scholar. How lucky.

11: “How many jars of gooseberry jam did his wife Ellen make in 1850? This is not a job for a grown up.”

14: “what is it you chaps are always saying: ‘how’s it hanging’?” More of that crazy linguistic gulf between the US and UK.

15: “or if you prefer the American vernacular she’s a real ball breaker.”

16: Lincoln University must be paying Gwenyth well, such nice clothes.

17: I really don’t like Paltrow especially when she plays British.

17: all the instant, snarky, we are going to end up in bed banter. Is the book this lame?

19: By all means sit in my office and do your research.

20: And he is already going to spend the night. That happened quicker than I expected.

21: Show her the stolen letter and then you areg surprised that she thinks you did the wrong thing–oh, because you are an American…and why did you have to steal the letter to study it?

22: and then she doesn’t even want to read the letter all the way through. She must really need to use the bathroom.

23: “He’s an American…he’s probably off trafficking drugs…”

25: an invitation for another night in Lincoln. And at he big house this time. Lucky guy.

28: middle of the night tearing apart dolls that apparently have been sitting there uncovered for 150 years.

29: why not bring the letters back to the room that actually has a working light.

I think I need stop watching. I think Glee is on…

27 thoughts on “Is the book Possession as badly written as the first five minutes of the film?

  1. Teresa December 6, 2011 / 10:31 pm

    NO! The book is great. The film … meh to bad.


  2. Teresa December 6, 2011 / 10:32 pm

    Also, *this* kind of question is what Twitter is for. See how useful it would be?


  3. Inkslinger December 7, 2011 / 1:31 am

    The book is SO much better than the film. For starters, Roland is NOT an American in the novel. And he doesn't have a friendly, wealthy lawyer for a landlord. And the scholarly rivalry is far more authentic (though still, inevitably, somewhat juvenile . . . as all rivalry is). This is probably Byatt's most accessible novel, but the film just doesn't do it justice (despite Jeremy Northam).


  4. Farheen December 7, 2011 / 1:49 am

    I'm reading the book these days and just managed to finish the first chapter….and now I'm even more discouraged to reach out for the book!


  5. harriet December 7, 2011 / 5:11 am

    In a word, no. Byatt writes well. But I actually liked the film better than the book, which I found annoyingly pretentious.


  6. joan.kyler December 7, 2011 / 8:20 am

    I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but we agree on #17. Don't know what it is about her, but I do not like her on screen or off.


  7. JoAnn December 7, 2011 / 8:46 am

    I think you should join twitter, too!

    The book has been on my wish list for as long as I've had one… I'm actually a little intimidated by it. No desire to see the movie any time soon.


  8. Darlene December 7, 2011 / 9:09 am

    I've watched this a couple of times and just enjoyed it for what it was but thank you for making me laugh this morning!


  9. Sara C December 7, 2011 / 9:55 am

    Hilarious. I loved this book; LOVED it. Have no plans to see the movie. Thanks for the warning.


  10. Daniel-Halifax December 7, 2011 / 11:03 am

    ha! i watched this film not so long ago and thought the same! and yes to 17, she bothers me so…the script was one that was almost painful to listen to, but i blame gwenyth she always puts on that sort of “I'm acting” persona…


  11. betsy December 7, 2011 / 12:17 pm

    Gwyneth Paltrow looked constipated compared to Jennifer Ehle , who played Christobel LaMotte with real passion.

    I do not remember much about the book
    other than that it had pages and pages that were the literary equivalent of flyover country.


  12. Unknown December 7, 2011 / 12:20 pm

    I never saw the movie, I planned on watching it after reading the book. But I didn't make it through the book. I was about 270 pages in when I realized that I had zero desire to read on and finish.

    The book is well-written – Byatt's talent shows in that she's able to pull off many different kinds of writing (e.g. the memoirs of the writers, the writer's poetry, the narrative itself, etc.), but as someone else said it does get to be a bit pretentious in parts and it's just way too long and just too much.


  13. bookssnob December 7, 2011 / 5:04 pm

    Hilarious! The film is terrible and bears no relation to the novel – for starters, the only American in it is the man with the archive in Texas somewhere. You'd love the actual story – not the Hollywoodized version!


  14. Alex (The Sleepless Reader) December 7, 2011 / 5:36 pm

    Another thumbs up for the book – so good! The movie.. well, it was a *bit* dumbed down, but still worth it for the scenes between Jennifer Ehle and Edward Norton.


  15. Ruthiella December 7, 2011 / 5:59 pm

    I haven't seen the movie but the excerpts you typed up bear little resemblance to the book that I read. American? What American? I really enjoyed the book. It is long and involved and very clever. And it has letters! You like letters! Once the distaste of the film has faded from your mind, why don’t you give the novel a try and let us know what you think?


  16. Aarti December 8, 2011 / 12:12 am

    No, the book is fabulous! The film is miserable. Read the book!!


  17. StuckInABook December 8, 2011 / 8:10 am

    I love both film and book, but they are different creatures. For a start, he isn't American in the book, as others have pointed out (don't know why they changed that, unless they thought US audiences wouldn't bother watching without all-American Aaron Eckhart doing his thang.) Biggest downside with the book is (a) long, dull poetry, and (b) no Jennifer Ehle, whom I love.


  18. AnswerGirl December 8, 2011 / 11:23 am

    The book is one of my Top 10 of all time. In fact, I plan to reread it (again) over the holidays. The movie – Lord, no. Just – no. No. And again, a thousand times, no.


  19. Ti December 8, 2011 / 2:55 pm

    Yes!! I did not like the book at all.


  20. Thomas at My Porch December 9, 2011 / 3:01 pm

    Teresa: You are right about Twitter in this instance. I thought the same thing before I posted this. I tought about it more seriously, but I don't think I am any closer to signing up.

    Inskslinger: Not even Jermey Northam could have saved this film.

    Farheen: That doesn't bode well.

    Harriet: Although I think I would choose annoyingly pretentious over dumbed down Hollywood.

    Joan: I can date my annoyance back to when she appeared on Oprah when The Talented Mr Ripley came out. I found her to be so atrociously and preciously full of herself. Especially in contrast to Matt Damon's down to earth genuine guyness.

    JoAnn: I haven't read any Byatt and based on the mix of comments here I am not sure I am going to start.

    Sara: I hope Byatt was paid a LOT of money for them to ruin her story.

    Daniel: I was already hating it before she even opened her mouth.

    Betsy: I must admit after I knew I hated the film (five minutes in) I kind of fast forwarded through the period bits. I was just looking for crap writing in the modern bits.

    Unknown: Very good feedback. I think I might keep my distance.

    Rachel: In the life is too short vein of thinking, I think I may have heard too much criticism here to pick it up. Maybe someday when all my other books disappear.

    Alex: A *bit* dumbed down in right.

    Ruthiella: I do like letters. Especially ones scratched out with ye olde ink pens.

    Aarti: That seems to be the consensus.

    Simon: What if Jennifer Ehle were subtracted from the film? What say you then?

    Ellen: If only I had known that before I pushed the “play” button.

    Ti: Another one for the anti camp.

    Rhonda: And another for the pro camp.


  21. Heather Bond December 9, 2011 / 4:56 pm

    Simon, you crack me up.

    I saw the movie ages ago and only remember the pretty parts with Mr. Northam and Ms. Ehle. And that I can't abide Ms. Paltrow, though I love her mother.

    I had the book on my shelf for years and kept feeling that I 'ought' to read it. Finally decided that I 'ought' to have that room for a book I would actually read so gave it up.

    Still thinking that I should read Byatt, I started The Children's Book and couldn't get through 100 pages. I wanted to like it but I just found it too dense (and I LOVE victorian novels) and too kind of show-offy. I'm sure she knows her stuff but man, the detail! I couldn't take it.

    And I read your previous post as “Stinkerklaas Came Early” about 4 times before I read it correctly.

    Keep up the great work!


  22. Heather Bond December 9, 2011 / 7:28 pm

    Yikes! I meant Thomas! Though Simon is often pretty funny.


  23. music-books-steve December 9, 2011 / 11:48 pm

    Here is what I wrote in my book log after finishing Possession. “Stunning story of intrigue in academia as two scholars (Roland and Maud) explore previously unsuspected liaison between 19th poets. Plays skillfully with tropes of the mystery, romance, gothic. Includes astonishing pastiches of 19th century poetry, journal writing and letters.” Perhaps it's just a bit too clever for it's own good, but it's a magnificent achievement.


  24. Karen K. December 10, 2011 / 12:03 am

    Snort! I saw it years ago and thought it was okay, though the contemporary part was horribly miscast. Aaron Eckhart is MUCH too attractive to be Roland, who is supposed to be sort of a dweeb — maybe he couldn't pull off the accent, so they made him an American? I did quite like the period bits — I love Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle.

    I do remember liking the book better though I admit to skipping all the epic poetry which bored me. I still haven't read anything else by Byatt though I bought The Children's Book for $1 at a library sale. If nothing else, the cover is very pretty.


  25. Jessica December 10, 2011 / 4:52 am

    I'm halfway through the book now and its like you've described a completely different story!


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