I got an advance copy of The Possessions, by Sara Flannery Murphy, from Harper Collins because it sounded like a book that might have to do with necromancy. The synopsis says that the main character “and her fellow workers, known as ‘bodies,’ wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits.” That right there is one of the definitions of necromancy—the attempt to talk to the dead and find out what lies beyond death.
The novel didn’t end up being about an attempt to find out what lies beyond death, however. The people who go to the “Elysian Society,” where the main character, Edie, works as a “body,” ask about unresolved issues from their dead loved ones’ lives, not about what has happened after their deaths.
Edie isn’t the character’s real name; it’s short for Eurydice, which is the name she’s given at work at the Elysian Society. The novel sets up a big mystery about Edie’s previous life before she went to work for the Elysian Society, and it increases the reader’s suspense during the build-up of the conflict—between Edie’s control over her body and memories and the increasing influence of a client/husband and his dead wife over her actions. Prior to the events of the novel, Edie heard stories about “the bodies who opened themselves up to loved ones and then never came back” and she wondered about it: “Did it happen all at once? Would I close my eyes as the lotus slipped down my throat and then never open them again?” Her wondering turns out to be related to her mysterious previous life.
The husband, Patrick, asks Edie how long people usually come to the Elysian Society until they are “I don’t know. Cured? Fixed.” Edie responds to this by telling him that “everyone has a different timeline” and then finally admits that it’s “years….usually.”
Patrick’s wife, Sylvia, died in mysterious circumstances, and Edie’s increasing interest in what happens to her forms the other half of the way the novel builds suspense. As she sees more of Sylvia’s possessions (before and after being possessed by her), Edie realizes that
“each smile in those photographs must mean something specific to Sylvia, a trail of beloved memories. Her friends, cousins, college roommates—they’re scattered across the city, across the globe, mourning her….Sylvia is coming back into a world without these other lives. Her life, this time around, is narrower. Only big enough for the two of them. Him and her.”
The possession that inspires the cover photo of the novel and that Patrick first brings to Edie is a dark purple lipstick, one that (as it turns out) his wife wore for another man. Patrick says “I remembered seeing her in it, once. When she was getting ready to go out of town. She was looking at herself in the mirror, and she was different. Beautiful, but different. It was a moment of realizing how little I knew about her. How separate she was from me.”
I found one part of the ending to be a disappointment, and that was the revelation of Edie’s big secret. It didn’t turn out to be as big a deal as I thought it was set up to be. A part of the big revelation (spoilers ahead) turns out to be that in her former life, Edie was suicidal. When she and Sylvia are sharing a body at the end of the novel, Sylvia thinks that
“I’m in love with the tastes and smells and sensations that cut through the ordinariness of occupying a body, bright shocks. I want to soak everything in. Whenever I feel that darkness edging against her, dulling her brain, muffling her vision, and I know that she wants to escape, I share this wonder with her.”
The happy ending is realized because when they are together, the damaged pieces of Edie and Sylvia can work like one whole person.
So the novel isn’t about what happens after death. It’s mostly a mystery but also part character study, about Edie and Sylvia finding a way to live together in this fictional future.