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On The Shelf: ‘The Possessions’ by Sara Flannery Murphy

‘Sup readers? Welcome back to On The Shelf, a Fan Fest column dedicated to helping you decide whether you want to purchase a new book to display on your shelf, or you simply want to indulge in the (space-friendly) ebook version. A lot of factors go into determining whether or not you read a book: sometimes the author’s writing is so compelling, they could publish a grocery list and it would still be an auto-buy. Other times, you can be lost in the bookstore or the library, drawn to a particular cover like a moth to a flame, intrigued by its design. Increasingly, however, book-buying trends take root on the internet— from the sprawling review community that is Goodreads to the steadily spreading influence of “booktube” channels on YouTube— this week, I stumbled into one of those trends.

I was looking for a book to read for this specific column. I enjoyed last week’s read so much, I was on the hunt for something different enough to stand out, something that would take me on an entirely different adventure. While browsing Goodreads, I found the perfect mark: The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy. A fantasy (paranormal, actually) novel wrapped in a thriller? Sign me up! Then I read an excerpt, and I was hooked.

Sara Flannery Murphy’s The Possessions follows Eurydice (“Edie”) an employee for the mystery-shrouded Elysian Society. The Elysian Society serves a unique clientele with a singular purpose: providing the bereaved with a chance to reconnect with their deceased loved ones. The process is very simple. Edie and her coworkers are called “bodies,” they channel the dead by wearing their belongings and gulping down paranormal pills called lotuses, whereupon they allow the dead to rise up and use their own flesh as a vessel to communicate from beyond the grave. There are strict rules in place, and most bodies can’t take the strain of being a conduit for the dead for very long. Edie, who has spent the last five years losing herself within the Elysian Society’s walls, is the exception. She’s been willingly renting her body out to those who are desperate for the ghosts of their past to return in full-force. Why not? It’s not like Edie has anything exciting going on in her own life— in fact, she excises a crazy amount of control to keep it that way. She could vanish into thin air, and it’s unlikely anyone would notice.

But then Edie meets widower Patrick Braddock, a lawyer seeking to contact his wife Sylvia, who died in a suspicious drowning accident. Edie, usually so straight-laced, begins to unravel as she moves down a dark path of newly-awakened obsession: a hunger for Patrick and a desire to expose the dark corners of Sylvia’s life (and death) ignite her, turning her from solitary hermit to woman in love to amateur detective. But as Edie becomes more reckless in her frenzied pursuit of Patrick, she begins to discard the rules that have kept her safe for so long, summoning Sylvia outside of the confines of the Elysian Society. Soon, she doesn’t know where she ends and Sylvia begins, as she searches for answers only a dead woman knows and fights to keep her own murky past from ruining her future.

As far as literary debuts go, let’s be honest: Sara Flannery Murphy’s prose is stunning. Her descriptions are exact but flowery, like she’s not just describing the world around her characters (a sunset, a bare-bones apartment, a tube of lipstick), but reshaping it entirely with her words so that the most mundane aspects of life become beautiful, worth lingering on. By the time you’re done reading The Possessions, you’ll feel like you’ve just eaten a twelve-course home-cooked Italian dinner, including antipasto, pasta (with real sauce, not the slop from a can) and dessert. Flannery Murphy’s work is bursting at the seams with refined eloquence, and that’s where things get tricky. By the time you’re halfway through that hearty meal, you’ll want to excuse yourself from the table because if you gorge yourself on anything more, you’ll end up puking all over the place.

If you’re at all familiar with the Grecian myth of Eurydice and Orpheus (step aside, Romeo and Juliet), it makes sense why Flannery Murphy bestowed her main character with the name (but I won’t get into that). Edie is a living, breathing ghost. Despite her carefully-presented blandness and the way she slogs through life as if it’s a sucking swirl of quicksand, she becomes increasingly unlikeable throughout the novel. Edie’s all canine teeth and sharp claws, there’s nothing even potentially redeeming about her. Also, The Possessions isn’t that big of a book (368 pages) but it moves at a turtle’s pace. The tortoise may have triumphed over the hare, but the fable doesn’t apply to The Possessions. Finding out what really happened to Sylvia and uncovering Edie’s past is such a slow, gruelling process I found myself not caring after awhile. The delivered twists were too little, too late. None of them were unexpected. Like Edie, the happenings in the novel just clicked into place without fanfare. Additionally, it sometimes got confusing, trying to figure out whose eyes the reader was seeing through. It shouldn’t have (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean) but it got unnecessarily complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book. I was enamoured with Flannery Murphy’s writing style and I think I’m advocating the unpopular opinion. The great majority will love The Possessions— and eagerly recommend it to peers— but its sluggish pacing, “meh” characters and not-so-shocking reveals just didn’t resonate with me. I’ll be trying Flannery Murphy’s next novel (if she writes one) but The Possessions doesn’t have a spot on the shelf. However, I truly believe others will be dazzled by this work of fiction, so if it sounds like something you’d read, you can grab a copy here.

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