Monday 19 June 2023

Book Review: The Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz (Gothic Mystery)

Title: The Possessed
Author: Witold Gombrowicz
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Publication Date: 18 October 2023
Pages: 304
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Gothic Mystery
Source: ARC via NetGalley

In The Possessed, Witold Gombrowicz, considered by many to be Poland's greatest modernist, draws together the familiar tropes of the Gothic novel to produce a darkly funny and playful subversion of the form. With dreams of escaping his small-town existence and the limitations of his status, a young tennis coach travels to the heart of the Polish countryside where he is to train Maja Ocholowska, a beautiful and promising player whose bourgeois family has fallen upon difficult circumstances. But no sooner has he arrived than his relationship with his pupil develops into one of twisted love and hate, and he becomes embroiled in the fantastic happenings taking place at the dilapidated castle nearby. Haunted kitchens, bewitched towels, conniving secretaries and famous clairvoyants all conspire to determine the fate of the young lovers and the mad prince residing in the castle. Translated directly into English for the first time by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, The Possessed is a comic masterpiece that, despite being a literary pastiche, has all the hallmarks of Gombrowicz's typically provocative style.


I really enjoyed The Possessed and finished reading it over just two sittings. On the surface it's a classic Gothic mystery featuring all the expected tropes of that genre. But underneath it is a gentle pastiche, making fun of its own plot and characters (the twitching towel made me laugh every time it appeared). I enjoy Gothic tales, so it was fun to see them presented in a way that was mostly tongue-in-cheek but serious enough at times that you could read it as a Gothic story with a thread of humour as well. A very enjoyable book, and the translation felt fluid, the prose highly readable, throughout. I am giving it 4.5 stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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