Mini classic review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw tells of a nameless young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something malevolent is stalking the children in her care. But is the threat to her young charges really a malign and ghostly presence or something else entirely?

“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one.”

I initially read this book because it served as the inspiration behind The Haunting of Bly Manor TV show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, the same can’t be said for this story.

One of the positives of this book: it’s short. So you can probably read it in one sitting. However, that is the extent of my like for it. Ultimately, I found the book so dull — it’s supposed to be a horror story and yet I felt anything but scared. In fact, I felt bored.

The writing was not evocative, the setting uninteresting, and the characters were incredibly droll — especially the Governess, the main character who serves as narrator. There’s a big issue when your sole narrator is boring, as everything else comes across as boring. I found the narration style incredibly vague, even while everything was explicitly described to the point of annoyance.

A large part of the story is interpreting the ghosts’ behaviour and their undue influence over the children, which I found so difficult to understand! Again, this is due to the governess’ incredibly vague narration. I’ve read many interpretations of Tressel and Quint’s behaviour: that they molested the children, that they had sex out in the open and were seen by other servants or even the children. However, by the end of this book, I still have no idea. And that’s the book’s biggest failing.

Thankfully, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a fantastic adaptation, and one I’ll be re-watching. So I can’t hate on this book too much.

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