The Possessions

Written by Sara Flannery Murphy

Review written by Carole Tyrell

Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.

The Possessions
Scribe UK
RRP: £8.99
Released: February 8 2018

This is an ambitious work - part ghost story, part obsessional love story, and part mystery. A cross-genre narrative takes immense skill from a debut writer to successfully traverse, which Sara Flannery Murphy (on the whole), pulls off convincingly.

Edie, or Eurydice, as she’s known at the Elysian Society where she works, left her past behind 5 years ago when she moved to an anonymous city.  She abandoned her real name and also some of ‘herself’ when she became one of the Society’s ‘bodies’. These are young men or women who take a pill, or lotus as it is known, and then channel the dead for the Elysian’s clients.  Over the years Edie’s moved up the hierarchy as she’s stayed longer than any other ‘body’.  She has her own room in which to work and is admired and despised by her colleagues in equal measure.

 Edie feels more like a husk than a person as her life seems to have a flat, muted quality to it as she channels the departed for her regular customers.  The other ‘bodies’ come and go.  As the Society’s founder, Mrs Renard, says of their transience ‘New to the city.  Craving to make a fresh start.’

Then Patrick Braddock comes into her life and the Eysian.   A widower whose wife, Sylvia, drowned 18 months ago while they were weekending with another couple, old friends, at a lake resort.   He’s already sent over some of Sylvia’s possessions including a nude photo of her and her lipstick.  The latter features in a memorable first line as Edie says ‘The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick.’  Edie takes a lotus and then descends into the dark to find Sylvia.

As their session continue, Patrick slowly begins to peel away Edie’s carefully constructed defenses and she finds herself increasingly attracted to him. Against the Society’s rules she embarks on an obsessional affair with him while Sylvia refuses to stay in the shadows.  Edie wonders what really happened on the night that Sylvia drowned and begins to look under the surface of the Braddocks’ lives. Secrets begin to spill out from the couple that went with them to the resort, The Damsons, who appear to know more than they’re willing to admit.  But will Edie succumb to Sylvia’s determination to come back to life before she finds out the truth? 

Set in a not too distant future, The Possessions has a distinctly dystopian feel to it.  The Elysian Society is an updated version of spiritualism, mediumship and séances with the lotus pills apparently producing a trance-like state.  I would have liked more detail on how the lotus pills worked. One character, Ana, takes one of the pills and brings forward the spirit of a murder victim.   The rundown neighborhood surrounding the Society protects it and its clients.  There’s a real sense of a civilized society falling apart and this is also reflected in Edie’s numbed personality and lifestyle.  At 30, she’s reached a turning point and babies feature heavily in the plot. However, the brief mention of her having stretch marks hints at what she might have left behind.  She is tired of being someone else and of being a conduit for other people as even Patrick sees her as ‘a shell.’ 

I liked the way that Flannery describes the culture in which the Society operates and its competitors.  It’s big business but a clandestine one. The rivals work out of the back of shops, word-of-mouth, or are ex-‘bodies’.  There are many who want the final chance to say goodbye or resolve issues.   There’s also the dangers of the bodies being possessed by what comes through the channeling and not being able to return as ‘their homes stolen out from under them by sly houseguests.’ 

However, Edie is prepared to abandon all of the Society’s rules despite being warned about Patrick by Leander another ‘body’.   The affair has a very Gothic quality to it with the dead wife refusing to stay dead.  There’s also a hint of necrophilia as one body reveals to Edie that she sleeps with clients while under the lotus’s influence to give them the illusion that they’re with their dear departed again.

There is a subplot involving a murdered girl’s body being found in a derelict house and the attempts by Ana to channel her and solve the case.  The victim is labelled ‘Hopeful Doe’ but the identity of the killer, when revealed is a tad anti-climactic and it seems an unnecessary distraction from the book’s main themes.

There were some good descriptive touches; an older woman is ‘walking a bouquet of lap dogs,’ and Sylvia’s ‘dark bobby pins would stand out in my blond hair like surgical scars.'

The pace of the book is slow, however I felt that it suited the rhythm of the story, as Edie's and Sylvia's secrets unfold, as the book's different strands all come together in a measured manner.  However, I still have some unresolved questions and look forward to Flannery's next book.

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