Possessing the literary mystery : reading, writing and interpreting the detective process in A.S. Byatt's Possession
Mongrain, Barbara Anne Margaret
Master of Arts
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This thesis investigates how Byatt’s literary mystery Possession uses elements of antidetective fiction and subverts conventions of the classic detective story. The classic detective novel is a genre in which the strange and mysterious is always explained, rationalized, eradicated, and abolished by the detective. While classic detective stories feature red herrings and false leads which delay the solution of the mystery, the detective uses his/her superior intellect and reasoning ability to successfully unravel such diversions and get at the bare bones of real truth. In contrast, the antidetective novel foregrounds a world where the disconcerting realm of mystery remains unsolved, the quest to pin an answer on the unknown unsatisfied. In the antidetective novel, the detective’s struggle to figure out the truth is often mocked, undermined, and forever delayed by the author. To support my claim that Possession is a metafictional antidetective novel, I analyse, in detail, the detective process Byatt designs for both fictional detectives and extra-textual readers. My discussion of the investigative process in Possession focuses on the narrative games Byatt creates between readers and writers inside and outside of the fiction. The various pieces of written discourses Possession features as textual clues keep much of the mystery of the past an enigma, thereby destroying the closure and positivism inherent in classic detective fiction. In Possession Byatt concocts a flexible reading game/detective process via an unstable ontological horizon, unreliable narration, and dubious intrusions by the omniscient narrator. While the metafictional antidetective novel Possession strives to undermine and assault the classic detective’s search for the truth, Byatt’s art affirms the energy of dynamic storytelling and the process, not product, of reading.