May 16, 2011

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Audiobook): Review

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Oh, Henry, Henry, Henry. What is it about our tempestuous relationship? Is it your run-on sentences? Your vague references? Or is it me? Whatever it is, we have a definite Mars/Venus thing going on. 

The premise of the The Turn of the Screw, a gothic tale of a two children haunted by the ghosts of the previous employees, or so it seems, and the governess who has to deal with the situation, is quite appealing to me. The book starts as a story-within-a-story. 

At Christmas gathering some folks are telling ghost stories when an old man tells them he has a doozy and it's written up and everything. So he reads it to his listeners and here's where the tale is turned over to the governess of the kids. It's her first job. The kids' uncle wants the them to be taken care of but wants nothing to do with it himself. He doesn't want to hear from her again once she takes her post. She thinks that's weird but agrees anyway. She meets little Flora, who is as angelic as anyone can be and waits for Miles to come home from school for the summer. Then she gets an ominous letter: Miles is not welcome back to school. Shock! What will she do? Apparently, her solution is to neither ask the school nor the boy why. This seemed like an obvious thing to ask but hey, what do I know? So everyone pretends nothing has happened until the end of summer when two creepy characters start hanging around the kids. What's even creepier is that only the governess sees them.

So what is going on here? Ghosts? Squatters? Or is the governess wacky? Maybe she partakes of spirits of another kind. What got me was how confident she was that she wasn't crazy and that these beings really are ghosts. It's just a given that that's what they are. Even the housekeeper Mrs Grose doesn't question the lady's sanity, not even when the governess sees a ghost standing in front of them and she doesn't. Then there are the kids: are they being deliberately devious by acting like they see nothing or is it more evidence that the governess is insane? The reader is the only one who must determine if she is a reliable narrator or not.

All I can figure is there is some Britishy social class issue happening. Mrs Grose doesn't question her better because she is her better. If she claims to have seen ghosts, then that's what they are. The governess's reluctance to confront Miles might be because not only is he her superior in class but also a male (a high handed little creep too). Girls don't question boys. Instead, they pussy-foot around the obvious and the funny thing is the kids are winning. The governess is outsmarted because the kids keep pushing her to the point where she needs to ask, "So do you guys talk to ghosts or what?" but she never does.

I'm glad I listened the the audio version. I can only imagine the number of commas used. I still had to listen carefully though. He takes such a round about way to make a point and half the time I don't think he makes one. However, there were some noticeable problems with listening instead of reading. My ear caught a few annoying things, like how Mrs Grose parrots everything the governess says in the form of a question. Sort of if you said, "I'm going outside now" and I said, "You're going outside now?" Yeah, like that. Then there's literally the issue of the governess's 'literally' problem. She says 'literally' a lot, like Chris from Parks & Recreation only she uses it correctly.




So, The Turn of the Screw wasn't terrible but it had some frustrating moments for me, especially the abrupt ending. What was that about? I'm still not friends with Henry but we could handle a nodding acquaintance.

About the Audio: Simon Vance is the voice of the old storyteller and Vanessa Benjamin is the governess. I enjoyed them both.

Sort of recommended.

8 comments :

  1. And your review was FAR more entertaining than the actual story, novella, whatever. I wish I'd had audio when I was doing my undergrad work.

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  2. I have a feeling this isn't for me!

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  3. I am not averse to excessive comma-tization. But the strange storyline might be beyond my ability for suspension of disbelief. I have to admire you tenacity and fairmindedness in giving James another go. Thanks for the fun review!

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  4. Andi- I think I would have given up if forced to read it.

    Kathy- Mr James is not for everyone.

    Col- Thanks, this might be the last one from him for me.

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  5. I thought this one was creepily good, but did have a problem with some of the things you mentioned. I did like the fact that we don't know whether the governess is insane or if the ghosts are real. You should check out the 1961 movie version of this book, The Innocents. It's good!

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  6. I LOVE Parks and Recreation. I look forward to it now more than the Office.

    Technically, some of those "literallys" may not be incorrect. Perhaps, for instance, it was the most beautiful speech he'd ever heard.

    Why is all the writing backward?

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  7. John- I don't know and it's driving me crazy! It's very distracting. I love Parks and Rec too. It's literally the best show on TV. ;)

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  8. I read this in a college class and our teacher had us watch two movies of it. In one, it was obviously a ghost story. In the other, the governess was obviously insane. I love how the story is so unclear as to what really happened...

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