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The Possession

Over the past decade, Seven Stories has brought out a number of Annie Ernaux titles, including A Man’s Place, A Woman’s Story, and A Simple Passion to great critical acclaim. The Possession, which was originally published in France in 2002, is the most recent title of hers to be beautifully rendered in English by Anna Moschovakis (who also translated Georges Simenon’s _The Engagement).

This is a very slim novel, a precise, almost objective depiction of a woman’s jealousy post-love affair, when after breaking up with her boyfriend of the past six years, she finds out that he’s moving in with another woman.

This woman filled my head, my chest, and my gut; she was always with me, she took control of my emotions. At the same time, her omnipresence gave my life a new intensity. It produced stirrings that I had never felt before, released a kind of energy, powers of imagination I didn’t know I had; it held me in a state of constant, feverish activity.

I was, in both senses of the word, possessed.

The narrator—whose voice is so clear, so telling, that it’s hard not to believe that this book isn’t based on experiences that Ernaux suffered through—then proceeds to provide a step-by-step depiction of the onset of jealousy and the way it can consume one’s life. One of the most poignant moments—for anyone who’s had a spouse cheat on them—is also quoted on the back of the book:

The strangest thing about jealousy is that it can populate an entire city—the whole world—with a person you may never have met.

Having lived through a similar situation, I can say with certainty that Ernaux nails a lot of the strange, contradictory desires that come up when trying to process this sort of consuming jealous. Such as her quest for knowledge about the “other woman” (“I absolutely had to know her name, her age, her profession, her address. I discovered that these details by which society defines a person’s identity, which we so easily dismiss as irrelevant to truly knowing someone, are in fact essential.”), and the reaction against all that this other person embodies (“I discovered that I hated all female professors—though I myself had been one, and many of my friends still were.”), to a desire to reclaim the past (“When I wasn’t preoccupied with the other woman, I fell prey to the attacks of an outside world bent on reminding me of our common past, which now felt to me like an irremediable loss.”).

The Possession is a very rational portrait of how a person falls prey to the “green-eyed monster” and how jealous can become all-consuming passion (or possession). But it’s also about the end of jealousy. About how life moves on and people—most people—put their lives back together and stop Googling this other woman/man every day.

Although brief, this is a surprisingly complete book. My one reservation is that it can be a bit clinical at times. It’s a retrospective look at jealousy, and as such, loses a bit of its emotional power by too objectively examining the distress and unhinged nature of someone coping with a situation such as this. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth reading.



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