Usually, I start each post with a passage from the novel I just finished reading. But, this week I have nothing. And that’s not for lack of trying. Before writing this I flipped through the book a couple time, looking for something. Sadly, I found nothing.
I am really quite disappointed by this too. I picked The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, because it was on a list of “100 books you must read before you die, otherwise your life will have been a waste”.
So when I pulled the book from my shelf I was ready and primed to go – I’ll take every precaution to keep my life from being a waste. Heck, I’ll slide nude down a well oiled, cement driveway on a hot summer day if some list in Cosmo told me I HAD to do it before I died.
Before I go too far, though, here’s the plot: An uncle gains custody of his niece and nephew after their parents suddenly die. The uncle sends them to live in a cottage in the country and hires a nanny to take care of the. The nanny is hired under the stipulation that she agrees to never contacts the uncle – he will continue to send money for all wages and expenses. From there events quickly unfold to reveal there are people, other than the nanny, kids, and servants in the house.
For me, the whole ghost story angle was fine. I liked the premise, and was keen to read another Victorian horror story – I had recently read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide, by R.L. Stevenson, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Unfortunately, for me, after reading it I’m wondering if playing “driveway slip and slide” would have been a better idea. This was a tough read. Following the narrative was like listening to my grandfather recount pre-war tax laws. The sentences are dense; they go on forever; and there is a lot of incidental information crammed in each sentence. By the time I got to the end of a sentence I had forgotten the start. I was not impressed.
My feelings soon grew to disdain once I factored in my distaste for the characters. The Nanny comes of as a foil for the events happening around her. Her gushing over the children sickened me. The children were lifeless and two-dimensional. Not to mention the other characters, like Mrs Grose, who also seemed plain and uninspired.
I will say, I did enjoy the criticisms and analyses of the text, found in the back of this Norton Critical Edition. I like reading about people’s interpretations of a story. “Were the ghosts just a figment of the nanny’s imagination?” “Is it an allegory about how the evil that men do will live after them?” Or, “is it a straight ghost novel about spirits and the afterlife?”
After reading these analysis I considered rereading the story, in order to discuss those questions. If only I found the text and narrative style approachable, at least a little, then I may have done it. However, as it stands, these questions will go unanswered by me.
Now, it’s time for me to go. I just found another list to complete: “100 of the best places to stub your toe, before you die”
Next book: All the Names, by Jose Saramago.