Brendan's Reviews > The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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's review
Mar 12, 2012

really liked it
Read from March 06 to 12, 2012

Not entertaining in the ways we expect our contemporary literature to entertain us, this book is an exercise in calibrated syntax as a portrayal of consciousness. By which I just mean: the way the sentences move shows us the ways the narrator's mind moves, and that's harder for a writer to do than it sounds. The narrator's clusterfuck of thoughts is the story here; the ghosts are MacGuffins. We get the sense that if it weren't for the setting's sordid recent history, the narrator would just find something else to go bonkers about.

What matters, what to read for, is James's use of obsessively fussy eddies of syntax to show us the ways a person almost willfully gets lost in her own mind, and how that distorts her view of the world, and how that creates a feedback loop of craziness -- and more importantly, the variety of ways he finds to convince us not to trust his narrator, despite (and because of) her endless, desperate grasps at convincing us of her credibility.

If that doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to read, that's because it's mostly not. But those of us who have ever, even for a moment, gone a little bit crazy, or jealous, or insecure, have attributed motives without proof, put thoughts in people's minds or words in their mouths -- those of us who laughed at that Onion article, "Women Always Answer Their Phones Unless They're Having Great Sex With Someone Else" -- we can recognize, maybe a little uncomfortably, a shade of ourselves in this story, and maybe appreciate James's acute syntactical portrait of that universal strain of crazy.

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