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The Turn of the Screw

Henry James

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Dover Publications Inc

Published : 1898, 1991

Copyright : Henry James 1898

ISBN-10 : PB 0-4862-6684-2
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-4862-6684-8

Publisher's Write-Up

For lucidity and compactness of style, James's short novels, or novellas, are shining examples of his genius. Few other writings of the century have so captured the American imagination. When Daisy Miller, the tale of the girl from Schenectady, first appeared in 1878, it was an extraordinary success. James had discovered nothing less than ‘the American girl’ - free spirited, flirtatious, an innocent abroad determined to defy European convention even if it meant scandal… or tragedy. But the subtle danger lurking beneath the surface in Daisy Miller evolves into a classic tale of terror and obsession in The Turn of the Screw.

"The imagination," Henry James said to Bernard Shaw, "has a life if its own." In this blood-curdling story, that imagination weaves the lives of two children, a governess in love with her employer, and a sprawling country house into a flawless story, still unsurpassed as the prototype of modern horror fiction.

'The Turn of the Screw seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading public than anything else of James's except Daisy Miller. '

The Glasgow Herald
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Emilie (301112) Rating (7/10)

Review by Emilie
Rating 7/10
Can you recall the feeling of seeing a terrible accident on the television? The sick swoop of unease, coupled with pity, fear and - despite yourself - a growing desire to know how it all came about? That’s the sense evoked when reading The Turn of the Screw. Henry James churned out game-changing works of fiction with annoyingly consummate ease, but this book is a league apart; a master class in creepiness. Not horror, not jarring shock, but creepiness; the lingering, furtive sense that something is awry. It’s the literary equivalent of lying in bed, trying to sleep, and seeing the bedroom door slowly swing open.

From a cosy domestic setting - crackling fire, drawn curtains and guests eager to hear a frightening tale - we are drawn into the written recollections of a young and inexperienced governess as she wins a prestigious place. The rambling country house of Bly is to be her new home, two ridiculously adorable children are her new charges, and there’s even the advantage of a wildly sexy master of the house living in London and paying her handsomely. However, evil begins to make itself felt before the dust has settled on our heroine’s suitcases. Two apparitions are stalking the house, the servant clams up whenever other Bly employees are mentioned, and the children have a secret which they’re not telling anyone. Why does no one want to talk about Peter Quint the handyman, and Miss Jessel the former governess? Why are the children acting so strangely? Most importantly, why on earth isn’t the new governess hightailing it out of there as fast as her hobnailed Victorian boots will carry her? She pits herself bravely against the dark forces closing in on Bly, in order to protect her young charges…or does she?

This is the great strength and defining characteristic of The Turn of the Screw; the questions that appear at every point in the narrative. Everyone involved is untrustworthy, even the governess herself. As each new horror escalates the tension, you begin to ask yourself if you’re really reading a story about a plucky woman standing up to hostile supernatural entities. Are you in fact reading an account of a disturbed, sexually repressed woman’s descent into madness? Suddenly the tale is even more frightening than before; hints of childhood abuse, terrible secrets kept hidden from adult ears, and the governess’s love for the children taking a darker, more obsessive turn. She keeps their letters to their father instead of sending them, and the children’s attitude towards her could be knowing deception, or barely concealed fear.

This method of storytelling, with an unreliable narrator and a lot of room left for the reader to draw their own conclusions, makes for a fascinating read. Style-wise it is an intense and not necessarily likeable experience; at some points it’s as if the author has chained you to a chair and begun savagely beating you about the head with a Thesaurus. This is of course how it is meant to be, claustrophobic and tense with tumbling sentences rolling about, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it - although Edgar Allen Poe did much the same thing, so perhaps ghosts and mile-long paragraphs go well together. If you’re more interested in gore or straight-up shocks than subtle psychological exploration, then this book isn’t for you either; Thomas Harris does a good line in bloody horror, and with an elegantly sparse writing style to boot. However, this is a classic of the ghost-story genre, with a narrative voice that makes it well worth your attention. Read it, marvel at the tightly-constructed plot, and see how long it takes you after finishing to look out of the window without a tinge of terror.
Emilie (30th November 2012)

Note: Free for the Kindle: The Turn of the Screw, Ed.

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