Friday 12 June 2020

Forgotten Book - Possession

Celia Fremlin was by no means a prolific novelist, but I've never read a book of hers that failed to impress me. When I spotted a paperback copy of Possession in a second hand shop, therefore, I snapped it up. The novel was published in 1969, and although it's not her best-known book, I found myself gripped as soon as I started reading.

The story is narrated by Clare Erskine, a married woman with two daughters who lives in London and enjoys nothing better than a gossip and scoring points off her friends. Fremlin portrays Clare cleverly, making clear her shallowness, and the gulf between her perceptions and reality, yet in a way that creates genuine sympathy for her.

Clare is thrilled when her older daughter, nineteen year old Sarah, breaks the news that after worrying her mother with a string of unsuitable boyfriends, she plans to get married to Mervyn Redmayne, an accountant. But when Clare boasts to her friends, she starts to learn things about Mervyn and in particular his mother which give her some cause for concern. Clare being Clare, she brushes off any worries, but it soon becomes evident that there is something deeply unhealthy about Mrs Redmayne's personality.

The title of the book is also its theme. Fremlin is very good at conveying the nature of possessiveness of various kinds, and the harm it can do. Her skill at social observation is outstanding and we get a splendid insight into middle-class London life at the end of the Swinging Sixties. There is much brilliance in this novel, although I must say that I felt the final part of the story did not make the most of the set-up she created. Had it done so, I would have classed this book as a masterpiece of psychological suspense. It's not quite outstanding, but it's very enjoyable, and in its quiet way very dark.

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