Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Classic Lit: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

When the narrator, a young governess, sets off to a secluded job taking care of two young orphaned children, she hardly expects to find what she does. The children, Flora and Miles, seem like perfect angels, but something else is at work in Bly. The governess soon begins to see apparitions of the deceased former governess and her lover and decides that these two can only be after her two young charges. Can the governess save the children from evil - or is it all just imagined?

I'm unsure what to say for this book. Ghost story: A. My understanding of it: B-. James is the king of run-on sentences, chock full of commas that make for rather choppy reading. Abnormally for me, I had problems grasping the story. The governess' narration leaves out a lot of her thoughts (often readers are told of her realizations in following scenes, not when they actually occurred), and she jumps to so many conclusions in a similar manner that the unfolding of the story can be hard to follow. The ghost story behind the plot, however, remains fascinating. "Who are these people, and what do they want? How far are they going to go? Are the children aware of them, and are the ghosts corrupting the children?" These are the questions that run the length of the novella and, like all good ghost stories, the build-up to the climax is exciting and leaves readers with an unexpected conclusion (unless, like me, you read the introduction first and it contained spoilers).

My copy of The Turn of the Screw is my mom's old 1979 Penguin paperback she bought back in college for a gothic literature course. The novella was originally published in 1898.

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  1. My wife adores this story but I definitely can't get in to, which sort of shames me because I rather like James. And sexy innuendo. Alas, so far, it hasn't taken -- but I keep trying!

  2. I was disappointed that I didn't enjoy the story more, too. This will be a book that I revisit eventually.