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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Possession

Annie Ernaux

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To purchase The Possession

Title: The Possession
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 73 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Possession - US
The Possession - UK
The Possession - Canada
L'occupation - Canada
L'occupation - France
  • French title: L'occupation
  • Translated by Anna Moschovakis

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, small account of obsession

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The French Review . 3/2004 Mark Lee
L'Humanité . 31/1/2002 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/1/2009 Nancy Kline
World Lit. Today . 10-12/2003 Michele Levy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Une invite à reconnaître le témoignage de grandes expériences fondatrices dans ces images passe-partout, souvent tenues en mépris." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "Anna Moschovakisís translation is spirited, but sometimes misses the mark; and the layout of the English edition ignores the authorís chapter breaks (to conserve paper?), thereby squeezing the air out of what is already a short book. This does not serve Ernaux well, for even in French her text feels abbreviated" - Nancy Kline, The New York Times Book Review

  • "To establish boundaries and thus render her jealousy less amorphous, Ernaux seeks to concretize the identity of her "enemy." Initially this heightens her passion. As she relentlessly inscribes her odyssey, however, she begins to tire of the effort to sustain this self-perpetuated occupation, ultimately moving beyond the emotion by which she defined herself during its reign." - Michele Levy, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       L'occupation is yet another of Annie Ernaux's very personal semi-fictions, a first person narrative of self-exposure. The story is from the end of an affair: after six years with W. they've separated -- though they remain in touch. It's not the split that gets to the narrator, it's the new woman in W.'s life. She becomes obsessed with her, an obsession aggravated by W.'s initial refusal to divulge anything -- age, circumstances -- about her. But learning her age, her profession, the fact that she has a daughter doesn't lessen the narrator's obsession -- or 'occupation', as she terms it.
       The book begins with the narrator/Ernaux expressing a wish for almost complete abnegation:

     J'ai toujours voulu écrire comme si je devais être absente à la parution du texte. Écrire comme si je devais mourir, qu'il n'y ait plus juges.
       It's an ideal, but, of course, she can't remove herself from the text or the writing But, like many of her works, L'occupation is also an example of self-analysis and of processing reality through writing. Ernaux is honest with herself (and her readers) in examining her 'occupation', aware that it is ... unhealthy and, to some extent, irrational, but wanting to understand it (and then also finding herself getting over it).
       Even in the moments that seem dangerously close to melodrama she can surprise: she mentions thinking of Anna Karenina's last moments while waiting for the RER, but the wording is precise, the suggestion of imitation (i.e. jumping in front of the train) intimated but also kept at a distance, the Anna in her mind's eye envisioned specifically: "avec son petit sac rouge", the focus ultimately on that detail over the suicide.
       L'occupation is a very short novella, but an effective account of dealing with this sort of (pre-)occupation with another person. Ernaux's openness makes for a penetrating and impressive little self-examination.

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The Possession: Reviews: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Annie Ernaux was born in Normandy in 1940. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022.

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