What can I say about The Turn of the Screw that hasn’t already been said and written? I know there are countless papers, essays even PHDs exploring this slim book, which is the most inconclusive of ghost stories.
In Henry James novella, an unnamed narrator is engaged as governess to two angelic children at Bly, a remote English country house. What initially seems a pastoral idyll soon turns harrowing, as she becomes convinced that the children are consorting with a pair of malevolent spirits. These are the ghosts of former employees at Bly: a valet and a previous governess. Or are they?
That is the central conundrum at the heart of The Turn of the Screw. Are the ghosts real? If so then our governess is sane, noble and self-sacrificing. But, if the ghosts are a figment of her fevered imagination, then she is mad and is putting her charges in grave danger.
James’ skill with the book is his utter commitment to a lack of commitment. You could read this book twice, the first time assuring yourself that the ghosts are real, the second reading assuming they are not and the novella would yield to your argument. The book may indeed be a ghost story without ghosts.
This governess’s description of her own situation could easily apply to reading the book;
No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!
The tale supports either of these two mutually exclusive contradictory narratives.
While I loved this aspect of the novella, I had a bit more difficulty with James’ prose. I have never read Henry James before, but battling through the text in The Turn of the Screw is like wading through a wordy swamp. The prose is turgid, bordering on pretentious and at times I skimmed just to get a general meaning. Take this line:
‘This was not so good a thing, I admit, as not to leave me to judge that what, essentially, made nothing else much signify was simply my charming work’
This was not a book that I particularly enjoyed reading, and for a novella, it was a surprisingly long read.
While I appreciated the ambivalence and the atmosphere, I was never spooked by the tale. However, James is a master of mood and as hard as The Turn of the Screw was to read, it has been just as hard to shake.
READ ON: KINDLE
NUMBER READ: 354
NUMBER REMAINING: 392
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!