Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

A very young woman's first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate...An estate haunted by a beckoning evil. Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls... But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil. For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

 Publisher: Audible | Narrators: Emma Thompson with Richard Armitage (intro) | Length: 4 hrs 40 mins | Genre: Psychological Thriller | Source: Audible | Rating: 3.5 

When a young governess takes a job at the remote Bly Manor, she wasn’t prepared for the odd and distant children or the phantoms haunting the halls. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem that the children are frightened by the ghoulish creatures. As her time at Bly Manor stretches on, the governess begins to grow frantic in her need to save the children. But what is she saving her young charges from?

The Turn of the Screw starts with an unknown narrator recalling a ghost story he heard at a Christmas Eve gathering. From there a note from the unnamed governess recounts the events that occurred during her time at Bly Manor.

From the start, there’s a lot of ambiguity in this novella. Is the governess mad? Is she seeing things? Is she sane and there’s a real threat? Do the children commune with evil spirits? Was the governess inappropriate? The only thing that’s certain about this novella is that the relationship between the governess and the children is volatile and there’s some type of danger lurking in the halls of Bly Manor.

This story has never wowed me. The unreliable narrator leaves an unreliable story where the context changes based on the readers mood. One minute I’m convinced the governess is mad and the next I’m certain she’s actually seeing ghosts.

The Turn of the Screw is the Schrödinger's cat of literature. The ghosts are both there and not there as long you don’t peer into the story. The box is never opened and the truth is never revealed.

While this book is neither spooky nor gothic, it’s been the inspiration behind many modern gothic novels and horror movies because it builds up suspense and plays with the readers minds.

This is the first time that I’ve listened to this on audio and I highly recommend this rendition as Richard Armitage’s intro pulls you in and Emma Thompson’s performance has the right amount of desperation, urgency, fear, and panic that grips on to you and allows you to truly experience the plot.

Overall, this is never going to be my favorite classic. I’m always going to walk away from this one feeling that it left me a bit meh. At times there’s a lot going on in this book yet nothing happens. At times it’s repetitive—again, it’s going back to the fact the governess is unreliable.

When I read the physical book, it always came across as overly dramatic; everything the governess does/says is overly urgent, overly fearful, overly panicked. Where the physical book became grating, the audiobook allowed me to enjoy it as a dramatization. I highly recommend trying out this particular audiobook version. 

Have you read The Turn of the Screw?

Are the ghosts real?

Is the governess mad?


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