The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The narrator is a young governess, sent off to a country house to take charge of two orphaned children. She finds a pleasant house and a comfortable housekeeper, while the children are beautiful and charming. But she soon begins to feel the presence of intense evil.
In my concerted effort to experience more of the classic titles so often referenced, I listened to the audio version of The Turn of the Screw narrated by Simon Vance & Vanessa Benjamin. Both are narrators whose performances I have enjoyed previously and they did not disappoint in this outing – delivering a suspenseful tale imbued with overwhelming isolation and sinister portents.
The three level narrative framework, the recounting of a retelling of a tale/experience penned by another, felt a little contrived to me (as a contemporary reader). However I grant it did help cultivate in its audience suspicions regarding the narrator’s reliability.
As much as I was engaged by the audio performance, at its conclusion I was left with more questions than answers. I couldn’t help wondering if I’d missed some vital details along the way. After pondering this for some time I decided I could answer ‘that question’ at least by reading a text-copy.
Now to re-read a book is a rare course of action for me, but I am pleased I did in this instance. On second reading, the nuance and subtlety employed by James became apparent. This led to a greater appreciation of the merits of this work for its time, but was also a sad reminder that in today’s society suspicions/acts of ‘impropriety involving children’ are all too common.
While I now understand it having engaged readers and critics over the years, The Turn of the Screw will not rate as one of my favourite classics — I prefer ghost stories with a touch more levity along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Published as a ‘shilling shocker’ in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the popular idea of the split personality.
Set in a hellish, fog-bound London, the story of outwardly respectable Dr Jekyll, who unleashes his deepest cruelties and most murderous instincts when he is transformed into sinister Edward Hyde, is a Gothic masterpiece and a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil.
Hands up anyone who has used the phrase ‘like Jekyll and Hyde’ without every having read this book?
That was me, and I thought I’d best rectify that — at the very least to ensure I had been employing the reference correctly!
I was immediately struck by the strength of Stevenson’s writing – such confidence, such poise – such judicious use of descriptors. You can almost feel the fog on your face and smell the London back alleys. And the sense of lawlessness of the elite and the unchecked cruelty/violence that occurred felt chilling.
The way the mystery unfolded was actually much more complex than I had expected. For an author to keep me on the edge-of-my-seat when the outcome is basically already known is an impressive feat.
A powerful novella, one that raises issues of substance and broad applicability. A deserved classic.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classics, Historical, Mystery, Drama
These reviews counts towards my participation in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015.