Thirty-year-old Edie works for the Elysian Society, serving as a conduit between the bereaved and their late loved ones. It’s not a job for those with big egos; after tuning in to the deceased via eliciting a memory and perusing some of their belongings, she takes a tablet which kills her consciousness while the client communes with the departed in privacy. Overseen by the imposing Mrs Renard who, despite her neat office, functions like the madam in a brothel, her colleagues provide a similar service in other rooms in the building, but none of them have stuck at it as long as Edie’s five years.
A well-written and engaging debut, The Possessions can be appreciated on various levels even by those who, like me, are suspicious of the supernatural. I might not believe in ghosts, but I do like an improbable situation that can serve as a metaphor for the puzzle of the human condition. Although, with half-hour sessions with clients, Edie’s predicament is a long way from the Frankenstein-esque system depicted in Strange Bodies, her willingness to host another person within her own body flags the perennial question of what makes us who we are. I found parallels between her role and that of a therapist who allows the client to use her mind; a sex worker (although, despite the flimsy dresses, sex was prohibited within the Elysian Society) and a woman incubating a baby. Like Jacob Little in In Search of Solace, Edie makes us question the enigma of identity by having very little herself.
Except that, of course, she has, and she’s chosen his work to get away from it. What Edie is trying to hide with her blandness is one of the two mysteries of the novel; the other being what exactly happened to Sylvia the night she died. The novel is also driven by a thriller element as we wonder whether, in pursuing her fascination for both Patrick and Sylvia, Edie is endangering herself. Of these three narrative threads, it was Edie’s back story that most intrigued me, but I also found it the least satisfying. Although the author gave some hints as to the kind of emotional territory her character as left behind, and a secret is in keeping with the novel’s overall theme, the reveal comes out too close to the end (in chapter forty of a total of forty-two) for the development I felt necessary. (I wondered if readers in the author’s native USA would be less disturbed than I was that Edie’s crisis had been met with so little compassion.)
Nevertheless, this is an ambitious and impressive debut. Thanks to Scribe for my advance proof copy. Do check out the other posts on the blog tour. (Mine for Underneath kicks off in two months’ time!)