‘The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick.’
This is the eye-catching opening line from Sara Flannery Murphy’s ambitious debut, a ghost story and a psychological thriller rolled into one. Edie works at the Elysian Society as a ‘body’, people who channel the spirits of the dead so that their loved ones can keep in touch. There are rules of course. It’s a controlled environment. They can’t contact suicides, and they can’t contact people they don’t know, like the woman who attempts to solve a murder. Edie is the perfect body. Detached and distant from others, she is an expert at channelling the dead. Until she meets Patrick Braddock.
Patrick Braddock is contacting his glamorous wife Sylvia, who drowned in suspicious circumstances. To her surprise, Edie feels an instant connection to Patrick, and finds it harder and harder to shake Sylvia off, the longer she spends as her. Is she really falling for Patrick, or is she falling under the indomitable Sylvia’s spell? And to what extent is Patrick himself taking advantage of her? As Edie’s feelings for Patrick grow, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the mysterious circumstances around Sylvia’s death. Previously a guarded character, who hides from the reader as much as from those around her, and a model ‘body’, Edie finds herself taking greater and greater risks to stay close to Patrick and to uncover the truth. And despite her attempts to keep her own secrets hidden, Edie finds her past increasingly hard to conceal.
As a well as a riveting and uncanny ghost story, The Possessions is a perceptive exploration of our attitudes to death and grief. As Sylvia gets to know Patrick, the neighbourhood is in thrall to the murder of a young woman who the police have named ‘Hopeful Doe.’ Later when her true identity is revealed, there is almost a sense of deflation – the ‘nameless, angelic girl’ has become ‘a specific woman.’ If we could talk to our dead, would it help us grieve? Or would it simply anchor us further to the past.
Enthralling, haunting, touching, and with more than a hint of a feminist dystopia, The Possessions, for me, marks Sara Flannery Murphy as one to watch.
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy is out now, published by Scribe.