Word Boutique Book Review - The Turn of the Screw

I’ve been meaning to read this for months, as it’s been sitting on my Kindle, and yesterday was just the kind of dark, cold night that’s perfect for a ghost story.

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, isn’t for the faint-hearted reader. By that I mean that if you aren’t a real lover of English language, and you just want your scary stories to be full of gore and guts, you’ll hate it.

The book follows a very young and slightly naive governess who is sent to Bly, a large and suitably spooky house, to care for a couple of adorable children. They have been left in the care of their very distant uncle, who doesn’t want to be bothered with them and only features as a slightly odd, peripheral figure in the tale.

The children, Miles and Flora, are positively angelic, perfectly behaved and beautiful-looking, and the governess seems to fall a little bit in love with them herself, despite the fact that Miles is expelled from his boarding school very early on and you never really understand why.

The governess loves her job, and takes to teaching the children very well. She makes a friend in Mrs Grose the housekeeper and it’s all going well until she spots a stranger in the grounds of the house at dusk. Mentioning him to her housekeeper friend, she realises that it’s actually an apparition; Peter Quint, an old employee, who had an affair with the previous governess, Miss Jessel, and who was a little too close to Miles, although anything untoward is only implied.

The governess becomes obsessed with the apparition, and starts to see Miss Jessel, who is also dead, around the house too. Determined to protect the children from the ghosts, who seem to have a hypnotising effect on them, she starts almost smothering them, convinced they are perfect little angels and that the ghosts are trying to corrupt them or steal them away.

More a psychological drama than anything, the story is quite a slow-burner, and the language (it was written in the 1890s) makes it even more so, but there’s a real feeling of foreboding as the malevolent ghosts appear more and more, and the children become more and more disturbed. Eventually, after Flora is lured across the lake by the ghost of Miss Jessel, she is taken away to live in London so that the increasingly desperate governess can get to the bottom of what really happened at Miles’ school, and so that the ‘spell’ can be broken.

…and it is.

There’s been a lot of discussion from literary critics about whether the governess was psychotic, whether the haunting even existed anywhere other than in her head. The writing is ambiguous and the ending of the story brings up more questions than it does answers, including “Did that really happen?”

I did enjoy it, and I wanted to get to the end to find out what had happened to Miles, why he was expelled from school, and what on earth was actually going on. I think I might have to read it again to find out!

The Turn of the Screw – Word Boutique Book Review

I’ll give it three out of five.

PS: It’s free on Amazon if you want to download it…