The Turn of the Screw is a rather famous and critically renowned novella in American literary history. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I started into the story. I specifically avoided the wealth of critical theory and interpretations out there. After finishing, I'm very curious to see the many possible discussions that have been spurred by this book.
The narrative style is simple and easily accessible. For modern readers, it may present itself a little daunting at first because of the high/antiquated language of the 19th century. But truly, it's not a difficult read. The language is very lovely. The descriptions are vibrant and intriguing. And the story is interesting.
The way the plot is laid out was somewhat interesting to me. It starts with a group of characters sitting around telling stories and one of them decides to read this account from a journal he's discovered/received. The rest of the story is then this journal.
That presentation in itself isn't terribly odd. What was intriguing to me was that the framing was simple and subtle but the overall purpose is ambiguous. We're told that the original storyteller (the man who has the journal) has a connection to the governess. The exact nature of his connection is left ambiguous to the extent that I sometimes wondered if he (the man) was a grown version of one of the children in the story (assuming a different name). Once I decided that wasn't the case, I was interested to see if he would have some sort of epilogue for what happened AFTER the final words of the journal. If he was close enough to the governess to now have her story, then it's somewhat strange that we have this exclusion of his own interpretation or of commentary after the fact.
The story of the governess and the children is interesting…eerie…somewhat chilling at times. It's not a shocking tale of horror and fear. But James does a great job of portraying the horror of emotion that the governess feels and that makes its way into the life around her. The interactions with the ghosts and the nature of the behavior of the children were strange and distanced. It was difficult for me to decide what was real and what was imagined. Many times I thought the governess was going insane. Other times I was certain she was on the right track. In many instances it felt like her leaps of logic were a little too far fetched and that she made too many wild assumptions. But it was interesting to see how things played out with her and with her interactions with her single confidant Mrs. Grose.
The ending left me stunned and with a whole set of new questions to think on. I enjoyed the story. It is definitely engaging. I really wanted more of a wrap up…more closure…more something after the current ending. Still, leaving this abrupt, shocking ending is certainly more powerful and long-lasting than if the author had stepped back and wrapped everything up in a nice neat bow.
Overall, this was a good story and I look forward to reading more by Henry James when I get the chance.
4 out of 5 stars
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