The Turn of the Screw (1898) By: Henry James
A governess is hired to care for a man's niece and nephew, but not to contact him at all. She finds the children to be little angels, but learns the boy, Miles, has been expelled from his boarding school for unspecified reasons. Then she begins to see the ghosts of a former driver and the former governess. Is the madness all in her head or have the children seen the ghosts too.
The only thing I knew about this before reading it was that it was a famous ghost story. This is very literary tale, even by the standards of Frankenstein. In my opinion it is too literary to enjoy. There aren't really any characters, yet it seems to explore be exploring insanity and the supernatural nature of ghosts. This is a story along the lines of Jane Eyre.
Warning possible rant follows.
The Governess is our unreliable narrator and we don't really get to find out much about her. She sees the ghosts as sinister and threatening, but they never do anything. That is part of James' point and I guess he was among the first to do it, but it just seems like bad writing now. Also, she has a bent with proving that the ghosts are read and vindicating herself. For me, this served to make her seem even more crazy and irritating. All in all, it seemed like a man writing an overly hysterical woman. Classy.
Miles is the creepy little boy that she must take care of. He was expelled from school for... something, and seeks to test the limits of his freedom. He is an annoying, overly smart little brat, so of course our crazy heroine loves him. The most we really find out about him is that he is nice and smart.
Flora is Miles' sister and suffers from super smart child syndrome as well. She may or may not have seen the ghosts and may or may not lie about seeing them at any given time. Why do I care about either of these children? Oh yeah, I don't.
There's also a housekeeper Mrs. Grose who acts as the governess' confidant. She is described as infinitely kind and doesn't serve to help the situation much.
This is so ambiguous and wordy that it is hard to understand without a Master's Degree in literary theory (I do not have one of those). I guess that was intentional, but it also makes it frustrating to read. Especially when the mystery and characters are so lackluster that I don't care about them either. Henry James also has an annoying style of capitalizing words for emphasis. I don't have a problem with this usually, but he does it one or two times a page. Also, James tends to, often, interject colloquialisms into the writing separated by commas (like I tried and failed to do at the beginning here). This makes his writing long, wordy and difficult to read.
In the End
I thought the end was abrupt and stupid, but I might be stating that a little harshly. It did end. Resolutions? That is for literary theorists I guess. I pity the students who have to read this for a class.
I can't recommend this to a casual reader. It was frustrating enough for me to read. It is short and I suppose it could have fans with those who like Jane Eyre. That is clearly not me, though. All the characters are meant to be sugar sweet, but are so badly descried that I barely care to tell them apart. The mysteries involving the intentionally unscary ghosts and the reason for Miles' expulsion are never solved. Yay, literature! Maybe I just don't 'get' it. It's no wonder people don't read.
Oh and it's free and stuff.