top of page

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - Book Review

Technically this review is full of spoilers, but it's only going to spoil the book if you plan on reading it which I recommend you do not.

What It's About

A young woman responds to an ad to be the governess for two children so their bachelor uncle who has been appointed their guardian after their parents untimely death, can have nothing to do with them. She travels to Bly manor, sees a ghost, sees another ghost, talks a bunch of boring nonsense for pages and pages and then the little boy dies. Like literally.

What I Thought

I will admit that classics are a huge hole in my reading. I have always really tried to read them and most of the time it's a thumbs down for me (notable exceptions being Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, A Moveable Feast and The Great Gatsby- Obviously). This one is going in the thumbs down category. I will also admit that the ONLY reason that this book even made it onto my radar is because I want to watch the new Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor that is apparently pretty loosely based on The Turn of the Screw. What I didn't realize when I started it was that I already knew a little bit of the story because I read The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware earlier this year which is a kind of retelling of this novel (gotcha Shanna). Also, this book as been the inspiration for countless adaptations in film, stage, literature etc. since it was written in 1898 so the story has been told multiple times - maybe too many.

Another reason I was initially excited to pick up this book was because I am making it a bit of a goal to read more horror. I love horror but it's been a largely ignored genre for me I think because the pool of books is a lot smaller than some of the more popular genres and also predominantly populated by Stephen King who is pretty hard to compete with.

Okay so, this book. I hated this book. It was so bloody boring. At first, I thought that the long long long convoluted sentences were a bit fun and maybe even romantic and I had fun reading them out loud, kind of like a tongue twister. It was entertaining to see if I could get to the end of the sentence without a misstep. But eventually, I figured out that, yes I could read the sentences flawlessly but in the end, I had no idea what I had just read. Here is an example of a random sentence pulled from the book:

"On, the spot, accordingly, in the pleasant hall and with her eyes on me, for a reason that I couldn't then have phrased, achieved an inward resolution - offered a vague pretext for my lateness and, with the plea of the beauty of the night and of the heavy dew and wet feet, went as soon as possible to my room."

This isn't even one of the worst ones. At least in this one, I can actually understand what they are trying to say. All in all, I basically got the gist of the book and I would have put it down almost immediately if it had been a longer read. I have heard it described before as a short story but I think that novella is a better description although, even as a novella, it felt like the longest book I've ever read. I read it on my Kobo and it was 350 pages but it is classified as being 114 paper pages and it took me forever to get through. I honestly have no idea how it's possible that it took me over a week to stop reading a book that's 114 pages long. Am I missing something? Are there multiple versions and I just happened to pick up the super long one? The version for people who want to torture themselves to death with boring pointless prose?

Anyways, the characters were dull and in no way developed - there was no room for character development amongst ALL THE EXTRA WORDS. Maybe they were developed while I was skim reading page after page trying to get to the point, but I doubt it.

The book starts out with some guy promising a room full of people a ghost story, but he can't tell the story until it arrives in the mail another day, so they all must wait. This, I'm certain, is never mentioned again so I'm not sure exactly what the point of it was. Eventually he tells this story which starts out as a ghost story, though not a very frightening one, but as the story "progresses" it starts to seem as though maybe the governess has actually gone mad. She has an unnatural obsession with the children in her care that, I think, borderlines on abusive. She then becomes fixated on theses ghosts that she keeps seeing, that no one else can see, but she is convinced that they can see and they are just pretending that they can't see. This, "I see a ghost, did you see the ghost, you DID see the ghost" thing goes back and forth for the entire book. At about three quarters of the way through, I pretty much threw it out the window because I just couldn't handle it for another second. I skimmed the rest of the book to just see what happened in the end which literally doesn't happen until the very last sentence.

I read the last page over and over and couldn't really decide what happened, I got other people to read the last page in hopes that they could tell me how this little boy stops breathing, and then I went to the internet. Apparently no one really knows what the end means. The little boy suddenly dies and that's it. There is speculation that he was smothered to death by this woman or that he in fact did finally see the ghost and died of fright? I don't know and no one else knows either.

Actual footage of me reading this book

0 stars. Definitely 0.

(Apparently I have no problem giving a bad review if the author is no longer alive.)

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page