Two books in one week checked off my 1001 books tbr, and I loved this one just as much as The Namesake. I finished the book early this morning, and originally thought it was a 4 1/2 star book, but I’ve been thinking about it since and can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it… so I’ve upped my rating.
A pair of young academics in the 1980s are researching the intersecting lives of two Victorian poets: Roland Michell is studying Randolph Henry Ash when he finds some partial letters from Ash to an unknown woman. Some sleuthing leads him to consult Dr. Maud Bailey, an expert on Christabel LaMotte, and the two embark on a rather thrilling literary quest to discover the previously unknown link between the Ash and LaMotte.
This book is absolutely wonderful. The writing is stunningly good—it’s so wordy, but in the best way, and Byatt has squeezed every little bit of beauty possible in to every page. I adored the layered storylines. I generally enjoy stories set in the 1800s, and the smoldering love story of Ash and LaMotte is the perfect mix of melancholy and romance. The more modern-day story is a fast-paced mystery with scholarly intrigue and a slowly-developing romance. As much as I love Ash and LaMotte and Roland and Maud, there is a full cast of interesting, well-developed characters. Leonora and Beatrice were fantastic in the modern story line, and Ellen and Blanche add layers to the Victorian story.
I’m not normally drawn to poetry, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the poems and prose that are laced throughout the book. If only we could really read all of Ash’s poetry on Norse mythology and Christabel LaMotte’s Melusina. Their letters to each other were beautiful as well.
Truly deserving of the awards and praise it has garnered, I think this novel will end up being a treasured classic. I will definitely be buying a ‘forever’ copy for my shelves. I’m certain this will be a rare reread for me someday.