A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession plays a part in the story-line of The Serpent Pool. It was a pleasure to give a nod to a book that I greatly admired when I first read it, not long after it won the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize.) The novel is splendidly written, for sure, but it also tells a really good story – and there are some very well written books which don’t really do that as effectively as one might wish.
There’s a lot of debate about literary snobbery, and the reasons, or supposed reasons, why crime novels never seem to get close to winning the Man Booker. I don’t think crime writers should be overly sensitive about this sort of thing, but I do believe that there are some crime novels which deserve serious consideration when the best books of the year are ranked. Perhaps more serious consideration than they have actually received over the years.
It’s ironic that people doubt whether ‘genre’ novels are worthy of being classed as high-quality fiction, given that publishers are often keen to brand ‘literary’ novels as ‘detective stories’, no doubt in the hope that this will broaden their appeal to the reading public.
Possession, certainly, is a book that can be described as a kind of detective story. A young researcher called Roland Michell teams up with an academic, Maud Bailey, as they hunt for the mysterious truth behind the relationship between poet Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Byatt ensures that interest never flags as the story unfolds. I don’t know if she has any aspiration to write an out-and-out detective story; perhaps not. But I bet she could write a very good one, if she wanted.