The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: B+

From the back cover:
The Turn of the Screw is regarded as Henry James’s most puzzling and controversial work. The narrator is a young governess sent off to a country house to take charge of two orphaned children. Everything seems charming and her wards especially so. But she soon begins to feel the presence of intense evil and sees the ghosts of two previous servants in the house. Are these figures, so vividly depicted through the eyes of the governess, products of her hysterical fantasies, or do they really exist?

Ambiguities abound in this short novel. Chief among these is the question of whether the ghosts are real or the governess is merely bonkers. I tend to the latter interpretation, myself. Some of the actual sequence of events at the end is fuzzy, too, which I found frustrating.

At times, the language of the story (and not the plot) was problematic, bordering on nigh incomprehensible. Most of the time, several rereads of an enormous, comma-laden sentence would divulge its meaning, but there were a few occasions where I just had to give it up and move on.

I thought the creepy atmosphere was well done; it was especially interesting to shift one’s attitude from ‘ooh, ghosts’ to ‘ooh, nutty chick’ and begin seeing the events from that perspective instead. What was most creepy, in the end, was her slavish obsession with the kids in her charge.

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  1. I watched a movie of this a few months ago, with Colin Firth. It was very odd indeed.

  2. A coworker of mine has previously mentioned this old movie she really liked, called “The Innocents.” As I described the plot of this book, she kept saying it sounded like this movie, so we looked it up and, indeed, it was based upon it.

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