Review: By Love Possessed

By Love PossessedLorna Goodison, By Love Possessed: Stories

As the title suggests, this collection of short stories is loosely focused on the theme of love, but not just romantic love: there are stories of friendships, parent-child relationships, and love requited and unrequited (mostly the latter). The stories are also pictures of life in Jamaica, chronicling the country’s postcolonial poverty, class warfare, desperation, and ambition. But while the setting is clearly and specifically delineated, the stories in this book also explore universal themes. In “The Helpweight,”a successful woman meets her ex-husband again after he has been in England for many years, but she is shocked when he asks for a favor. In “Shilling,” a teenage girl daydreams about her crush, but when he finally notices her, the reality is far different from her fantasies. And in “The Big Shot,” a man who has worked all his life to escape the grinding poverty of his childhood is suddenly confronted with his past.

I think this is the first book I have ever read by a Caribbean author, so it was an entirely new experience for me. I loved the fact that these stories paint such a vivid picture of life in Jamaica, from the weather to the food to the patterns of speech. Several of the stories are written in dialect, and the characters’ speech patterns vary depending on their level of education. While some of the phrases and spellings were unfamiliar to me, I really felt immersed in the world of these stories. Goodison is also a beautiful writer; she has a talent for conveying a lot of information without ever explicitly saying it. I found the endings of the stories especially impressive because they provide just enough closure without tying everything up too neatly. As with most short story collections, some were better than others, but I can’t think of any that I really disliked. (My favorites are the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph.) I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in Jamaican or Caribbean literature!

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2 thoughts on “Review: By Love Possessed

  1. DoingDewey says:

    I love books that give you a vivid experience of another culture! And I think it’s pretty impressive that weren’t any stories you particularly disliked in the collection. Sounds good!

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I’d say it’s one of the better short story collections I’ve read. Granted, I’m not much of a short story person! But I do think most of them worked in this book.

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