Book Review: Turn of the Screw – Henry James


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Release Date: 1998
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 120.
Find It On: Goodreads. Amazon.

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Henry James’s paranormal tale of ghosts and evil, will leave you chilled to the bone.

Jane has just landed her first job, she is being sent to the country to be a governess to two orphaned children. On being interviewed by the children’s uncle, he tells her never to contact him, on any circumstance. Despite the strange request, Jane takes the job and on reaching Bly she meets the two hauntingly beautiful children – Flora and Miles. But everything is not as it seems in Bly – the previous governess left suddenly and died and then there’s Peter Quint, who also worked in the house, but has mysteriously disappeared. Jane tries to uncover the the truth behind the horrors of Bly, as well as protect the supposedly innocent children.

This is a particularly eerie one. This is my second time reading The Turn of the Screw, and it gets no less creepy the second time. A second reading also does not give the answers that you so desperately seek at the end of the story. The Turn of the Screw is a mystery, it leads you in circles and you never truly find out what the horrors of Bly are. The narrator Jane, is a completely unreliable one. Is she mad? Is she being terrorized by the ghosts of Peter Quint and her predecessor Miss Jessel?  Is she just hysterical? Is she doing this in hope the children’s uncle will come to visit? There are so many options.  Not only that the two children are Omen worthy in their creepiness, they seem so sweet and innocent, but are definitely not all that they seem.

It’s a pretty short book – some ninety pages, but it is by no means a quick read. Much of the story is in what is not said, the gaps and silences in which no character actually speaks. It can feel a bit laborious, but it’s a very interesting story for the time period, the idea that what you are reading might not be the absolute truth is a very modernist viewpoint for the 1890’s.

It’s a very spooky story, the setting – an old country mansion situated next to a small sleepy village. A small staff working in the house so many empty, disused rooms. It makes for a very tense, uneasy setting, and it definitely helps to create the sense of horror in the novel. It’s a pretty enjoyable read, though make sure you read it with the lights on!

Looking for something similar? Try: Melmoth the Wanderer or In a Glass Darkly. 

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: Turn of the Screw – Henry James

  1. I read this at University and hated it so much but I’m thinking of re-reading it now. I love an unreliable narrator and I think you make a good point about much of the story being in the silences. Maybe I judged it too harshly!

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  2. Finally one I’ve read! 🙂 Yay, and I liked it very much.

    “two hauntingly beautiful children” I smiled when I read that phrase. Love it.

    It’s really well written, but I think this more like a book discussion, than a review, because you reveal how it ends, almost in the beginning of the “review”. I understand your opinions, but I’m glad I read the story before this review.

    Maybe a spoiler alert?

    🙂 Peter

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    • Thank you so much! I actually studied the book at university recently, so that might explain why it reads more like a book discussion. I will most certainly add a spoiler alert, I’d hate for someone to have the story ruined on my account!

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      • Super! Ah, you actually read it at university, that’s fun to hear. The Danish publisher that republished it here in Denmark a couple of years ago did a hard work translating it into a language that young readers could understand. Not that every single phrase should be modern. But I guess, the syntax of the sentences. They were afraid that youths would give it up, it they should read it in the originally language.

        Have you read the old one, exactly as it was written by Mr. James?

        🙂 Peter

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      • I completely understand that, I think at a young age books like Turn of the Screw can be difficult to get into. I read the original one, we have to use the Norton editions at University so we don’t get the option of an updated version!

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