The Possessed

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Pub Date 18 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 11 Oct 2023

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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 Ochołowska, 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.

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...

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ISBN 9781804270615
PRICE £12.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

Possessed by Witold Gombrowicz - what a novel. I've never read anything by Gombrowicz before but love translated novels, and this gothic masterpiece is a credit to both author and translator. If anything, the ending seemed a little abrupt, but re-reading it, that kind of worked. Brilliant in every way. My grateful thanks to the publisher and to Netgalley for the copy.

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This was a really intense but my gosh the writing was really strong. This is a very multi layered story that keeps you on the edge of your toes.

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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.

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A young man named Walchak started working with Maya, a future tennis player, in the isolated countryside. The nearby 170 room castle, owned by an insane prince, a devoted servant, and a diabolical secretary, is naturally haunted. Due to their disparate social classes, Maya and Walchak naturally fall in love as they learn how similar they are to one another and how much they dislike one another. The clue to the prince's insanity is hidden in the castle's haunted room, where a towel that Walchak finds shivering and moving bears the key to the secretary's plot to seize control of the castle. Trials and separations, a brief stay in Warsaw, a helpful clairvoyant who solves the mystery, and finally, the solution but not before a murder.

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Turning the standard Gothic narrative on its head, this mesmerising tale weaves seamlessly between intrigue and humour; painting vivid characters in minute strokes, with an attention to detail that can only astound.

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This is brilliant I will be posting multiple youtube videos on this book from reading vlogs to my August wrap up for my subscribers to hear about this book. What a brilliant ride of a novel, great writing, love the work of Antonia as translator. I know her from Drive Your Plow. She has such a strong, identifiable voice that comes across in the writing. You can tell without being told that she translated this.

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Published 18 October 2023. This is translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones who also translated Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. This is a gothic read that has its tongue firmly in its cheek. We have a haunted castle, a mad prince, a murder - every trope that you expect to find in the genre. But there are so many layers that it is serious at times. Maja is a promising tennis player whose mother has been forced to take in lodgers. She hires Leszczuk to be her coach and forms an attachment with him that is at times full of hate. Her fiancé is the secretary to the mad prince in the haunted castle who is plotting against his employer. On the prince's side is his devoted man-servant and an art professor who believes that the castle is full of priceless art. And so the plot develops. And what is the castle haunted by? A towel in the kitchen! Add into this mix a clairvoyant and you have a read full of intrigue and madcap fun that is at times quite thrilling. An enjoyable read.

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The Possessed | Witold Gombrowicz
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones


Release date: 18 October 2023

Oh what a great feeling it is when you find a book that becomes one of your all-time favourite.

Leszczuk is a tennis coach who dreams of escaping his small town and travels to across the country to train Maja - a great tennis player from a middle class family. But very quickly people start to notice the unbelievable similarity between these two with a love-hate relationship developing between them. At the same time, unexplainable and spooky events start to happen, people seem to go mad and a crime takes place.

In this 400-pages long novel, Gombrowicz has created something that I could only describe as a masterpiece. A gothic novel, set in Poland, with some comic relief, a love-hate relationship and haunted dish rags.

I remember reading Ferdydurke by the same author when I was college, but this one was so much better! If I had to, I would compare this novel to Wuthering Heights (because of the hate-love theme and ridiculous comments), Dracula (extremely gothic setting with unsettling possessed characters) and Anna Karenina (ah the ball dance scene was everything), I can even throw in some Carrie Soto for the tennis aspect.

I couldn’t put it down, I was losing sleep over it, I was reading on my way home from the train station, at the ball dance scene?!?! OH MY!!

Honestly, it was a pleasure to read this book! It’s very much a classic but it’s so worth it! I cannot wait to get myself a copy in the original language, later this year.

I was anticipating this book ever since I first saw it being announced at some point in March, and I’d like to thank @fitzcarraldoeditions for sending me a proof of this book.

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This is the first time Witold's serialised story has been translated directly from Polish into English, and it had everything:

🖤 A mad prince

🖤 A Haunted dish rag

🖤 Secret tunnels

🖤 Lovers and lunacy

🖤 Séances

I'm not usually a classics reader and I did find the style a bit monotonous - it took me a week to read because I kept falling asleep, although I've also been ill to be fair! But the plot was so gripping I never wanted to quit, and there's so much deception that you can't skip a single paragraph or you'll be wildly confused!

This was a comfortable read for my inner goth - very Walpole-esque and quite, quite mad.

Thanks @fitzcarraldoeditions
for the e-ARC in exchange for this review. This one publishes on 18 October 2023 (we share a birthday 🎂)

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A very strange tale from Witold Gombrowicz. I, like many others, have a penchant for Fitzcarraldo publications because they are rarely boring. In Possessed we have another odd tale from Eastern Europe.

Walczak/Lesczuk (he changes his name few chapters in) has been employed as a tennis coach for rising young star, Maja Ocholowska. Unfortunately the two seem to have a very strange effect on each other from the first time they meet, much to the disgust of Maja's fiance, Cholawicki (secretary to the Prince of Myslocz Castle). The strange relationship continues as both Maja and Lesczuk are drawn to the strange happenings at the castle where the Prince is going mad and Cholawicki is making it worse.

As the story continues we discover that the prince's insanity began when his son, Franio, died in the old kitchen. This old kitchen is somewhere all fear to go because of the effects of the haunted dish towel. Yes, I said dish towel. I told you it was strange.

The story then follows the odd affair between Maja and Lesczuk who seem to both attract and repel each other equally. It is only on their return to the castle that the difficulties can be resolved. But are either of them brave enough to face the spooky tea towel.

Yes it is all very tongue in cheek. All the relationships are very peculiar but the book pulls you along I an almost hypnotic trance. You spend a lot of time wondering what it all means and who Franio really is and why the Prince is so crazy.

I thoroughly enjoyed the craziness and the writing is wonderful. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who is a Fitzcarraldo devotee or if you simply would like to read something that is way off the beaten track of normal literature.

Thanks to Netgalley and Fitzcarraldo for the advance copy.

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