The Turn of the Screw by Henry James | Book Review

Henry JamesThe Turn of the Screw is a gothic novella revolving around an unnamed young governess sent to a country house to take care of Miles and Flora, two orphans, who finds herself entangled in a rather bizarre and unsettling situation. Considered by many the “the greatest ghost story ever written”, James’ novella is probably by far the most unexpectedly brilliant classic I’ve read in the past years. It’s not a secret I’m not enamoured of horror books or psychological thrillers; however, I found this short story to be a pleasant surprise.

Ambiguity. If there was a word to perfectly describe the novella it is this one: ambiguity. The Turn of the Screw is a peculiar hide-and-seek type of novella comprising a very specific type of mystery that Henry James manages to manipulate the reader with. If anything, it is one of those books that, once you’re completely immersed in, have the capacity to make you doubt your own judgment and make you wonder if you’re losing your mind. So much more than the average “spooky autumnal read”, it provides an abundance of material one has to analyse and go through in order to convey a meaning – for, according to certain philosophers, the book is nothing without the meaning the reader attributes to it. And even doing so, by analysing it one can only realise that there are a multitude of possible interpretations and unreliability is woven into the very core of the story. The governess is the quintessential unpredictable and untrustworthy narrator, which is why – in grace of her subjective point of view – there are numerous ways of interpretations of the circumstances and events occurring. A compelling novella about desires and impulses, a distorted vision of reality and irrational behaviour many could associate with hysteria, it is a reflection of Victorian values and the distinction between the vast concepts of bad and good, which ultimately leads to a tragedy.

While the plot itself is worthy of praise, the intricate prose used with the purpose of dissimulation is what grabbed my attention. The simplest of ideas are rephrased and described in such imaginative manners that the reader cannot help but look for clarity: one cannot decide if the events are truly real or just a figment of imagination. Henry James’ writing style doesn’t focus on concrete terms and clear meanings, but specifically on the ambiguity the plot is dealing with. Thus, if you are looking for a rather difficult but short classic, if you enjoy books capable of manipulating your mind and charming you into a world of instability and ambiguity, this is a suitable read for youu. The book was sent to me by Libris and you can find it here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Title: The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James
Publication Date: 2021
Publisher: Alma Classics
Format: Paperback|176 pages

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