Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Name: The Turn of the Screw
Author:  
Henry James
Number of Pages:
137 (ebook)
Published:
September 26th 2017 by AmazonClassics (first published October 1898)
Genre:  Mystery, Horror

Goodreads

A young governess arrives at Bly, a country home in Essex, England, to care for Miles and Flora, two precocious and pure children. But as ghostly visions take shape, the obsessively protective governess soon fears for the safety of her wards – only to wonder if these hauntings are a conjuring of her own imagination.
In challenging what we see – and what we believe we see – in the dark of the night, The Turn of the Screw stands as one of the boldest and most chilling ghost stories ever told.

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I finally picked up The Turn of the Screw as a while ago I watched a movie called The Turning, and more recently I’ve started watching The Haunting of Bly Manor. Both of these adaptations are based on this book, so I thought it was time to check out the original tale, and what better than a ghost story for a dark autumn night?
I have to admit, The Turning was okay, up until the ending. I wasn’t that struck by the ending. I haven’t watched enough of Bly Manor yet to have an opinion, but what I have seen so far I’ve enjoyed. Going into this story with the idea of that ending in mind left me curious as to whether the book would be the same.

The story – a governess goes to Bly to undertake the care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora. At first all seems well, the children are perfect and the governess is happy, but odd things start to happen. Strange noises, an unknown man to whom the governess has not been introduced appears on the battlements, only to disappear again.
There’s also some secret as to why Miles has been expelled from school.
The governess is soon convinced that she’s seeing ghosts, having taken the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, into her confidence. She believes she’s seeing Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, former inhabitants and employees at Bly who shared an eventful past and are now looking for trouble.
Worse than that, she becomes convinced that both Miles and Flora know about these things, and can see both of them, and actively encourage their presence, or sometimes that the ghosts are after the children.
But what is the truth? Are there really ghosts at Bly, can the children see them, or is the governess victim to her own vivid imagination?

How much you enjoy this story may partly depend on how much you like the ambiguity. That was what I didn’t like too much about the ending of The Turning. I won’t say more in case you want to watch that film. I did find though that it seemed to work better in a book than shown onscreen for some reason. I don’t know whether it was because I went into the book with that in mind, or just because it was somehow more plausible because of the way the story was narrated. That said, I did find the ending when it came was quite abrupt.

Then there’s the writing style. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it’s very wordy, with a lot of punctuation. I came across words that I checked the meaning of (an advantage to the e-book version here), and found myself going back over some of the longer sentences and rereading to make sure I’d got their meaning because at times I did feel a bit lost in too many words. It was convoluted but once I sat down to read for a longer time I found it a little easier to follow. It wasn’t a book you could just grab a quick chapter in a few spare minutes.

In the end I’m a little conflicted over The Turn of the Screw. I quite liked elements of the story, and the ambiguity around what was going on worked well in the book – the ’make of it what you will’ element.  It left me with many questions, partly through that abrupt ending, but the writing style definitely outweighed my overall enjoyment which influenced my rating for this one.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

  1. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies says:

    I listened to the audiobook for this about a year ago (Richard Armitage does the intro) and liked it a lot… although I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t remember the ending! I do remember the ambiguity, which makes it creepy, but I do prefer actual answers. 🙂 I still may check out the Netflix version.

    Liked by 1 person

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