The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This is such a strange little novella that I'm unsure how to begin.When an inexperienced governess goes to work at Bly, a country house in Essex to look after a young boy Miles and his sister Flora, all manner of strange events begin to occur. The governess spots a ghostly man and woman around the grounds and is told by the housekeeper that the valet and previous governess haunt the house. It soon becomes clear that the children are inexplicably connected to these ghosts in some way and the young governess struggles to protect the children, although from exactly what, she is not sure.
The story is given to us by someone who had heard the story from someone else, who had been told the story directly from the governess herself. From the beginning, therefore, we are steeped in the issue of narrator reliability. Did all this really happen? And did it happen exactly as we are told? The ending is entirely ambiguous, and we are left on our own to think over what's happened. James leaves us to decide the whys and wherefores, without spelling anything out, which I liked.
I felt cold and detached throughout the entire story; I couldn't warm to any of the characters, and the narration confused me, as though I were dreaming. There are so many layers here that I couldn't decide whether this was a ghost story, or a psychological study. Were the ghosts real? Or was the governess just batshit insane? Her wordy, flowery narrative, her racing thoughts, her fickleness, and the mere fact that she seemed to be the only one ever to see the spectres, certainly suggested she was off her rocker.
James has written the entire story using the bare minimum of full stops. His use of punctuation is admirable, particularly the sentence which had six commas and seven semi-colons, but is incredibly difficult to read. I often had to read a sentence two or three times to ensure I was fully aware of what was going on. This erratic style, however, did add to the idea that the governess was falling into mental breakdown.
This is a short little read, but worthwhile. It's in no way frightening, but experiencing the doubtful and cryptic mind of the governess is definitely a must for classic lovers.