August 8, 2010

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Title : The Turn of the Screw
Author : Henry James
Reading Dates : 29 Jul - 1 Aug 2010
The Turn of the Screw
From goodreads :
The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.

Book Review of The Turn of the Screw.
The Turn of the Screw is one I didn't like.

The reason is a very simple one. The author's style of writing does not work for me. I often had difficulty following the thoughts of the governess as she narrates her experiences. Quite a few of the sentences left me with a headache. While I expect to have some trouble at the start of reading classics, I also expect to adjust to the “rhythm” of the language after a few chapters at most. Having to struggle to understand the tale throughout the book really detracts from the story. So in the end, I couldn't enjoy it as much as I should.

I say should because this story is actually the scariest of the recent gothic fiction books I've read. Henry James's descriptions of the heroine's ghostly encounters and the children often left me feeling spooked. In fact, I'm not sure why the main character didn't notice much earlier. After the first few times of hearing about the children's perfection and beauty, I couldn't help feeling uneasy and wondering if they were something more than ordinary children. That none of the household staff should notice and their chief caretaker take so long was extraordinary to me.

On another note, I find the description of this story being a “psychological ambiguity” as puzzling. From the narrator's first encounter with the children's unnatural visitors, there was never a doubt in my mind that they were real. How could she possibly dream up and describe accurately a person she's never seen or known of ? If there is any ambiguity, it is in the ending where we are left to ponder what happened afterward.

My conclusion: I'd suggest giving this one a try first by reading it for free before committing to a purchase. While the story is interesting in itself, the style of writing might be a bit of a turn-off.

  • Read the opening sentence from the The Turn of the Screw.
  • Read another review of Henry James's novella at Page Turners
  • Read the story online or download the eBook for free HERE.
  • Listen to the audio book for free HERE.

Henry James' The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the ScrewBenjamin Britten - The Turn of the Screw / Padmore · Milne · Wyn Davies · Montague · City of London Sinfonia · Hickox


  1. I am not a big Gothic Fiction fan so I probably wouldn't read it. However, I am sad that you didn't connect to the book :(

  2. I listened to this one on Librivox and didn't much care for it. But then I was trying to work while I was listening and I'm sure I missed some of the nuances. Or...maybe not. Maybe I just didn't like it either!

  3. You are the second one this week commenting how hard it is to read Henry James. I think I will take both of your views and skip his books. Or maybe he has one good book?

  4. @BookQuoter
    I've only read the one book by the author, so I don't think it would be fair for me to say either way. :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...