Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

A very young woman's first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate... An estate haunted by a beckoning evil. 
Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows-- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls... 
But worse-- much worse-- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.
For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

My Reaction:
Reading reviews for Peter Straub's Ghost Story, I saw repeated references to The Turn of the Screw, which reminded me that I'd never read it, so I decided to finally read the (classic) novella.  (Having now read it, I can easily see why other readers said Straub borrowed heavily from Henry James.  Yes, he really, really did!)

After a few moments of déjà vu, I soon realized that I must have watched a film adaptation, at some point, but I'd forgotten more than I remembered of the story-- and this was certainly my first time reading it.

And now, having read it, I wish I could say that I'd enjoyed it very much, but honesty compels me to admit that I found much of it a terrible slog.  The plot was interesting-- though so subtle in some key points that I suspect many modern readers, unfamiliar with some of the coded hints, might not understand just how awful the villains are/were-- but all too often the story is buried under a heavy, suffocating layer of convoluted prose.  There are a few sentences that require careful parsing to even understand!  Admittedly, I don't read many "classics" these days, so maybe part of the problem is that I'm out of practice with more serious literature.  However, I read classics for fun in middle school, so I do think that some of it comes down to peculiarities of James' own style, which apparently isn't to my liking.

This will not be on my list of favorites-- not one I'll re-read or recommend willy-nilly-- but I still am glad I've finally read it.  Certain moments and aspects of it are powerful.