I was so looking forward to reading The Turn of the Screw. It's on my classics club list and I've been saving it for Halloween as that seemed to be the most appropriate time of the year to try it. I adore gothic fiction, particularly when it has horror elements (Dracula is one of my all-time favourite books) and I also know from reading Daisy Miller that I like James' writing style, so I felt sure I would like it.
Maybe my expectations were simply too high, but I didn't love this book in the way I wanted to. I liked it well enough, it was a decent read, but it was just missing that spark that would have made it special. I think a lot of the problem was the deliberate ambiguity. The governess is the main narrator of the story, and boy is she unreliable. You never get to find out whether any of her visions are real or indeed what the motivations of any of the characters are. I do like unreliability and uncertainty in books, but I felt there was just too much of it. Were the children evil or was the governess simply mad? Although I have my own favoured interpretation, based on my modern beliefs, it bugged me that James gives us nothing. And I mean nothing. I wanted to know what really happened!
The other problem I think the book had is that there was this long build up in which Douglas is basically like "this is the scariest story ever told" and then we have to wait for the manuscript written by the governess to arrive and there's just so much suspense and build up. Rundown houses, fog, crumbling towers, it's all there and the scariness of the story doesn't measure up to all that build up. I know scary in classics is very different to modern scary standards, but even so, the book felt like a lot of build up for not much in the way of scary events.
All this isn't to say that I disliked The Turn of the Screw; I still found it engaging, well written and it definitely made me think about what happened. The more I think about it, the more I come up with new theories and I know that makes James a clever author. It just wasn't the book I was hoping it would be.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1898
Edition Read: Vintage, 2007
Score: 3 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 18/72