Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Elizabeth Kostova's top 10 books for winter nights

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

For the Guardian, in 2005 she named her top ten books for winter nights. One title on the list:
Possession by AS Byatt, 1990

This book has been reviewed so widely, so recently, and with such ferocious praise that I blush to put anything down about it unsupervised, but my copy of it is certainly one of the most pleasantly worn and thumbed on my shelf. Many of Byatt's novels deal with academia, of course, but in this one she deliberately sets out to conquer the historical mystery as well. Two young academics at interesting odds with each other find themselves piecing together the possible love story of two great (fictional, but hugely convincing) Victorian poets. The mystery of this literary past is couched partly in the poets' verse (Byatt's creation), some of which is exquisite in its own right. The novel gives off an eerie sense of real voices drifting in from the past, and at the same time is leavened by a good deal of sly parody of scholarly obsession. As always, Byatt wields beautiful prose, and the mix of prose and poetry gives the book a sensuality as mysterious as anything in the plot. I first read Possession when it came out and (like many other readers) was inspired by it to read the rest of Byatt's oeuvre to date.
Read about another book on Kostova's list.

Possession also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best locks of hair in fiction, ten of the best graveyard scenes in fiction, and ten of the best lawyers in literature, and on Christina Koning's top six romances critic's chart.

Also see Alan Cheuse's short list of books to warm a winter's night and the Independent's list of the fifty best winter reads.

--Marshal Zeringue