Roland Michell and Maud Bailey are scholars of two Victorian era poets, Randolph H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively. Roland is an under appreciated researcher, toiling away in the bowels of the British Museum. One day, he is researching one of Ash's books in the British Library and comes upon two copies of an unfinished letter to an unnamed woman. It was a very well documented fact that Ash was married happily. Who was this mysterious woman? If a finished copy of the letter was sent, it would change the face of Ash scholarship!
Roland tracks down a few facts that lead him to visit Maud Bailey. Together they embark on an adventure to find out who the mysterious woman is, if there is any chance it could be Christabel, what happened to the letters and how the long dead poets lives turned out. Of course, when you research an old love story there are usually present day repercussions...
I love this book. Two poets in love? Excellent. I will confess, however, that the first time I read this, I struggled. Part of the beauty of the book is in the story, while part is in the poetry. Poetry from Ash and LaMotte are woven through the book in such a beautiful, but sometimes overwhelming way. There is a large section of poetry in the middle of one of the most important parts in the book! The first time through I am pretty sure I skipped it all just so I could find out what happened!
I hear you saying, "Now wait a second. This book is fiction. What poetry could there be?" And I will tell you: that is the beauty of this book. It is not only an excellent story, but so much work has been put into the character's history and back story that is almost hard to remember that the book is, in fact, not true. Byatt not only created the story of two poets who fall in love, but wrote poetry in two very distinct styles for her poets in love. Sometimes it is hard to switch gears from reading prose to reading poetry. I think probably every other time I read this book, I'll just breeze over the poems. Not because they are boring; I'm just in the prose mode.
Honestly, I have no reservations about recommending this book. I suggest it to the reader, the poet, the lover, and the writer in you and your friends.
If you decide to give this one a try (and I really think you should!), please let me know what you think of it!
P.S. The movie adaptation of this is BRILLIANT! I love it. Check out the trailer!