cover image The Possessed

The Possessed

Witold Gombrowicz. Black Cat, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6252-6

This 1939 treasure from Polish modernist Gombrowicz (1904–1969; Pornografia), available in its entirety for the first time in English, involves a young tennis coach entangled in intrigue and supernatural phenomena. Leszczuk is visiting an estate in the Polish countryside to tutor tennis prodigy Maja Ochołowska, who’s engaged to middle-class schemer Cholawicki. Knowing that his fiancée finds him repulsive and is only out for money, Cholawicki pins his hopes to clinch the marriage on inheriting or outright stealing a treasure trove of art from his employer, Prince Holszań ski. The nobleman, meanwhile, is haunted by the ghost of his dead son, Franio, whose apparition stalks Holszański Castle. Gombrowicz fills the plot with genre tropes, including a self-important professor who convinces himself that he would steal the prince’s art for the sake of “the common good,” a cowed servant who, terrorized by Franio’s ghost, lets leak to Cholawicki that all is not normal in the castle, and more. What emerges is a crafty and sharp exploration of the greed, lust, and vanity that spin people out of control. Gombrowicz’s gleeful misanthropy and sense of the absurd shine through the genre trappings to create a potboiler that’s enjoyable on multiple levels. This works perfectly both as a straightforward gothic akin to Du Marier’s Rebecca and as a knowing parody. Agent: Bonnie McKiernan, Wylie Agency. (Mar.)