The Turn of the Screw

Title: The Turn of the Screw

Author: Henry James

Published: 1898

When I first came across this book on the shelf in the library, I must admit I was rather hesitant about picking it up; this hadn’t been my first encounter with James’ works. My first encounter had been a few years ago when I picked up ‘Portrait of a Lady’. A couple of chapters in, I gave up and figured that perhaps James’ works weren’t for me. However, after coming across this book in the library, I decided to try again and see what happens.

The novel is primarily told from the perspective of a young woman who accepts the job as a governess for two children, who seem to be perfect.  However, things begin to take a sinister turn as the governess soon senses a presence of evil surrounding the house. Secrets of the past are uncovered, strange figures are sighted and the ghost story begins.

The start was promising and I was pleasantly surprised (given my last encounter with James). A narrator who once heard the story himself tells the governess’ story and the perfect atmosphere for this ghost story is set. However, once the governess’ story started, my delight soon vanished. The tale was very intricately and skillfully written, but I felt it was very convoluted and at times very confusing. Having to keep re-reading sentences in order to fully comprehend what James was trying to say was seriously off putting. At about the halfway point, it started feeling like a chore to read this book.

Having said that, I found the plot of the book to be engrossing and the characters were interesting (especially the children) but from in a detached way. I do have to say though that at times I found the governess to be somewhat trying. Her constant fascination with the appearance and innocence of the children started to get a tad annoying at some points.

“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was.”

The question of whether this evil presence was even real arose in my mind a few times throughout the novel. I honestly thought that all this was just in the governess’ head and the feeling of an evil presence was just her fears taking a form. (The impression given was the governess is scared that someday these pure children are going to become tainted by the outside world).

“I was a screen– I was their protector. The more I saw, the less they would.”

I also really liked how there wasn’t just one mystery – there was obviously the main one and then a couple of side ones to keep the readers guessing.

Furthermore, the whole ‘cat and mouse’ game between the governess, children and that evil presence was really well played out. However, I felt that the story dragged on a little in the middle and did not quite sustain itself. And yet, the ending I felt was too abrupt (so much so, that after reading this on my kindle, I actually went back to the paperback just to make sure my kindle version had not missed anything!). To my complete dismay, the whole mystery wasn’t even cleared up. A lot of questions remained unanswered or at best partially answered. I would have liked the ending to have wrapped everything up and preferably, returned back to the present day – i.e. back to the characters telling the governess’ story to begin with.

Overall, as you can tell a very mixed review! After reading this book, my thoughts were jumbled and confused! Nonetheless, although it is abundantly clear that James is a very talented writer, I don’t think I shall be picking up any more of his works. This I can say, is down to the way he writes; his writing is too convoluted and confusing but I know others will disagree. I would never actively discourage anyone from reading this book, but I would say just bear all this in mind if (and when) you do decide to read it.

Apologies for the rambled nature of this review and for the delay in posting this.

Saz