Book Review: Turn of the Screw by Henry James

We’re back again for another book review, and this time we’re jumping on the ambiguous horror train. All aboard for the next stop, Turn of the Screw.

Where do I even start with this novella? This story is the equivalent of a never-ending maze. No matter which way you turn, it’s never a wrong, or a right, direction; you’ll always find that you come out with more questions than you entered with. This is one aspect I enjoyed about Turn of the Screw. Usually, when you return to a novel, you know how it ends and you sometimes find things you didn’t notice before, but in this novella, because of how ambiguous it is, you never really come out with one set ending. You never know if what the governess sees is real or made up. You never know if the kids are in on it. You never know who the anonymous “I” in the introduction is. This makes every re-read of the novella a fresh experience. I’ve read one other book likes this (NW by Zadie Smith) and while I won’t say this style is my favorite type to read, I appreciate the skill of the author. They’re reads that, after the initial introduction to the novel, you’ll want to go back through and really digest the texts because, I don’t know about you, but when I first pick up any story I devour it. I don’t always slow down to really take in the finer details. That happens in the second, third, maybe even fourth reading. Turn of the Screw does this beautifully because it pulls you in every time and you leave with a new perspective and a new set of ideas about what’s happening in the story. Alright, now let’s talk more of the dynamics of the novella that really stick out.

Henry James absolutely nails using silence and manipulation of space around the characters to portray horror that will chill the reader. Before reading this text, I never understood how much power silence within a text could hold. It’s riddled with meaning while it builds on the suspenseful atmosphere around the characters in any scene. When I say “horror” I’m not talking about the bloody and/or gory horror some of you may think of. I’m talking about those still moments when one is waiting for something to happen; I’m talking about those times when one is in the middle of a disturbing or unexpected scene and all is silent and the only thing one can do to escape the scene is wait. Wait for time to continue. Wait for something to happen. Wait for sound to return. At many critical moments in Turn of the Screw, the nameless governess encounters these scenes repeatedly, and it builds to the end of the story that leaves you wanting much more than just a last sentence. We want to know what happens next, and this is where the backtracking part comes into play. This is the fun part where you piece together the moments you caught onto or that other reads bring to attention. The best part of this entire novella? Whether you’re looking for clues to the governess’s insanity or proof the apparitions exist, you inadvertently take on the role of the governess. James has created such an engaging piece of literary work that, while the reader is in pursuit of the truth (much like the governess) one inadvertently becomes similar to the governess in finding proof to back up their suspicions or beliefs to what’s happening in the text. I highly recommend giving it a read, even once, because the descriptions and characters’ interactions alone are a treat to the mind. I mean, really, check out this one:

“The summer had turned, the summer had gone; the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights. The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance–all strewn with crumpled playbills.” Turn of the Screw, Henry James

Also, did I forget to mention that The Haunting of Bly Manor is a loose adaptation of this story? Of course, I recommend checking the show out on Netflix, and if you already have then you’re in for a new treat with this story because the ending is completely different. When I initially picked up James’ text, I kept thinking the names Miles and Flora sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until the mention of Bly did I make the connection. I 100% love the adaptation. It was a great scary story on the screen, but it’s purely a creative interpretation and set in a more modern time period than the actual story. It’s like getting two storylines in the same setting, though I definitely prefer the novella over the show. It’s much more rich in plot even with the ambiguousness. I guess I’m just a sucker for the written word.

“All roads lead to Rome, and there were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground.” — Turn of the Screw, Henry James

I’m also a sucker for the older English and the way people spoke during the time. It may throw me off for a moment, but I’m always captivated by the sheer beauty of the words. James has truly created a stunning, ambiguous, horror filled adventure for the reader to embark on repeatedly without becoming tired of it. If this sounds appealing to you, or you have even an inkling of an interest in learning more about the story, you can find it on Amazon (link below)!

That’s all for this book review! I’ll see you in the next post.

Until then,

Shania

The Turn of the Screw on Amazon

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