Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Doesn't look scary at
all.  Or does it?!
Yesterday I was home sick with the stomach flu.  It wasn't pretty.  When I wasn't sleeping or getting sick, I was watching some old Dr. Who episodes.  I'm a latecomer to this BBC version, but I like it quite a bit.  It's the right combination of sci-fi and creepy and witty banter to make me happy.  Yesterday I saw two episodes that reminded me (in different ways) of The Turn of the Screw.  The first was a Christmas episode featuring Charles Dickens and some spirits living in the gas pipes of funeral home and the other featured an "empty child" in 1941 London.  The "empty child" episode gave me goosebumps (might have been the fever, but I don't think so) and the Dickens episode made me wonder if Carrie's head exploded when she watched it.  You may have noticed that she's not a fan of Charles Dickens.  Anyway they're both good episodes, it's a good series, and it's available on Netflix should you ever find yourself stricken with the stomach flu.  But don't watch them until you've read this novella, cause it's pretty great a creepy way.

It starts out in London on Christmas Eve with a group of friends gathered around a fireplace exchanging ghost stories (this is the part that the Dickens Dr. Who brought to mind).  One gentleman says he has a written account of a governess, no longer living, who was convinced she and her wards were plagued by ghosts.  The governess was informed that she was not to communicate with the children's uncle (their guardian) and would be in a country estate with a maid, Mrs. Grose, and the children, Miles and Flora.  The governess meets Flora first, as Miles is on his way home for the summer from boarding school.  The governess is charmed by the children and begins to feel at ease around the house and with her new job.  However, things quickly go sideways.  Suddenly there are sightings of a strange man, and later a woman, around the estate.  The governess goes to the maid about these strangers on the grounds and Mrs. Grose offers that they might be the old governess and former valet.  That wouldn't be that unusual except Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel and both deceased.  And the new governess appears to the be the only one that sees them.

As the days progress, the situation around the house grows ever more odd.  The children seem to always be in odd places whenever the ghosts appear.  Mrs. Grose finally relents to the governess that Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel were entirely "too free" with one another and the children.  What that means exactly is up for interpretation.  The children refuse to discuss the ghosts even though the governess is convinced that the apparitions are in some way controlling the children.  Eventually, Flora demands to go away from the governess.  Miles takes the opportunity to play some soothing music until the governess realizes that Flora has left the house and her whereabouts are unknown.  After searching the house with no success, they find her in a clearing in the woods.  The governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel there as well.  Soon Flora takes ill and it's decided she'll go to London to be with the uncle.  Later  that evening, the governess spies Mr. Quint in the window watching Miles.  The governess places herself between Miles and the ghost and informs Mr. Quint that he no longer has any hold on the boy.  Mr. Quint leaves but at the same time Miles drops into the governess's arms; dead.

The best part about this story is that it is so ambiguous.  Are there really ghosts?  Or is the governess off her rocker?  Are the children just vacant vessels being manipulated by former house staff who had too much freedom with them (this is the part that was similar to the "empty child" episode)? Or are the children just being children?  Is the governess the only sane person who is trying to fend off maleficent spirits?  Or is she slightly mad herself?  Is there something wrong with the estate or something wrong with the governess?  It's wonderfully written so that the reader must make their own inferences.   While the story is told on Christmas Eve, I recommend you read it now in the season of Halloween.  Nothing quite like a psychological thriller to make all those trick-or-treaters seem a wee bit scary!  Has anyone else read and loved this one? Let me know!

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