Seemita's Reviews > The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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bookshelves: horror, america, novella, fiction, drama, thriller

I often embrace the notion of writing being superior than plot to the extent of salvaging a lackluster body of the latter, very close to my heart. And it is stories like these that realign my reading meter in that direction.

Henry James’ story has no flaws per se; instead, has a pollen bearing promise to turn into a full feather. A series of apparition that haunts the governess of a house, driving her to cast her net of suspicion across all the residents, primarily the children, makes for a premise worth pursuing towards an exciting journey. But its blooming is excruciatingly contricted amid the very many winding, endless sentences, almost binding the book like a curse. I am not troubled by such literary joints, especially when they coalesce to elevate the meaning to the surface, if not make it clear to the reader. But I found myself, repeatedly in the midst of verbose blah-blahs that did nothing to advance the story; worse, stalled the little progress it had already done in first few pages.

I found my concentration wavering many times despite assuring the book a tranquil, conducive atmosphere and as a result, would have perhaps seen it nose-dive towards a me-too affair had it not been the climax which retrieved the verve to some extent. There were patches which were brilliant and like sparks, contained my reading experience from not being a total black-out.
I call it a revolution because I now see how, with the word he spoke, the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama and the catastrophe was precipitated. "Look here, my dear, you know," he charmingly said, "when in the world, please, am I going back to school?"

Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal governess, he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses.
Characters are drawn with a stable, neutral hand implying I could make the solid outlines of the characters swaying and levitating but wasn’t compelled to stop them and ask them more of what was not visible on the surface. They won my attention but not my involvement.

It was my first James and I am on the fence right now. Perhaps another ticket to his land is due when the writing may draw no comparison with Marcel Proust and the plot, with Conjuring 2.
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Reading Progress

June 15, 2016 – Started Reading
June 15, 2016 – Shelved
June 16, 2016 –
page 60
49.59% "'They were extraordinarily at one, and to say that they never either quarreled or complained is to make the note of praise coarse for their quality of sweetness.'"
June 22, 2016 –
page 100
82.64% "'Would exasperation, however, if relief had longer been postponed, finally have betrayed me? It little matters, for relief arrived. I call it relief, though it was only the relief that a snap brings to a strain or the burst of a thunderstorm to a day of suffocation. It was at least change, and it came with a rush.'"
June 27, 2016 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Dolors (last edited Jun 27, 2016 06:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dolors I never tried to conceal my reservations about H.James, and so your lukewarm reaction to his detached characters and his polished (view spoiler) writing, which actually managed to hold my attention in this particular case (when it wandered hopelessly in Washington Square and Daisy Miller), doesn't surprise me, Simi. As usual, a magnificent display of your eloquent reasoning and the consistent quality of your writing that is reaffirmed by every newly published review.


Fabian {Councillor} I haven't read James yet, but this has been on my radar for a while (even though a lot of people among my GR friends didn't like it at all). Maybe I'm going to wait now that your review assured me that it is a book you probably have to be in the mood for. Intriguing review though, Seemita! I am yet again stunned by your amazing way with words. :)


message 3: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda Wonderfully-written review, Seemita! I'm yet to read James. Sorry you didn't find it compelling.


message 4: by Sookie (new)

Sookie Your ending lines - Perfect :-) [your city is breaking my heart today :(]


Seemita Dolors wrote: "I never tried to conceal my reservations about H.James, and so your lukewarm reaction to his detached characters and his polished [spoilers removed] writing, which actually managed to hold my atten..."

Thanks for sharing the disappointment, D; it lessens the pain a little, especially in these days when I am struggling to allot respectable number of hours to my books. And you are right; it is his overweening, ill-placed overdoing, mindless bombardment of phrases, refusing to leave each other that really turns unnerving. I suppose I am going to give The Portrait of a Lady a try before I make up my mind about James. Until then, your warm camaraderie would delightfully do :)


Srividya Love your review Simi and I totally agree with you. This was my first James and I have to say that it did not resonate with me at all. In fact, I would say that I was bored with the long winding, never ending, often meaningless writing that bogged down what would/could have been a good story. Writing is important to me as well and often I find that despite a book not having a good plot is made heavenly by good writing but in this case I had to leave disappointed and unsure of what made many like it or even love it. I thought and still do think that it is the case of me not being able to grasp the inner meanings (if any) that lie within the writing. It definitely helps me feel less stupid when I see a review that somewhat agrees with what I felt! Lol!


message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 28, 2016 12:34AM) (new)

I felt the same when I tried to read The American...I could have finished it as it was written very well, but like how you so wonderfully said, "won my attention but not my involvement"--the same goes for me when I tried this particular book.

I still have him on my radar...experience has taught me that at times, books can be like people---when they come at the right time, it is like finding a soul mate/best friend/confidante...when they arrive at the worst time, they are like the worst enemy....I know this, so I don't give up hope that somewhere I will find the Henry James book for me at the right moment.


Seemita Councillor wrote: "I haven't read James yet, but this has been on my radar for a while (even though a lot of people among my GR friends didn't like it at all). Maybe I'm going to wait now that your review assured me ..."

Thanks, Fabian! Well, I can't comment much on the general levers that James deploys in his story-telling but if the yardstick is made purely of this one book, I would contemplate dissuading you from it. Of course, he is quite a popular writer and I suppose many find a lot of merit on his hinged sentences that struggle to find a full-stop. Perhaps this overlapping could strike a chord with you; who knows? :) Do give him a read though; I might find a crevice or two of allure in your review after all :)


Seemita Amanda wrote: "Wonderfully-written review, Seemita! I'm yet to read James. Sorry you didn't find it compelling."

Thank you, Amanda! No worries; some blips are necessary to reach the highs, wotsay? ;)


Seemita Sookie wrote: "Your ending lines - Perfect :-) [your city is breaking my heart today :(]"

Thanks buddy! :) Oh what but you accuse my city of??


message 11: by Anuradha (new) - added it

Anuradha You've got me curious with this, Seemita. Wonderful review, as always! :D


Jibran Ah yes, Seemita, you make a compelling case of why James's prose has the potential to irritate the reader by pulling the gossamer cloth over their eyes sentence after sentence, until they cry out in frustration, 'what the heck!' I did feel a few instances where I had to reread the paragraph to get the point, if ever there was a point, but I found the challenge sublime and James' consistency in producing intricate sentence after sentence thrilling. I reckon reading him is acquired taste, and so I would suggest you at least try a couple of other novels of his before forming a definitive opinion. And what a coincidence, we read it about the same time, though for me it was a reread to help a junior cousin. I liked it more the second time round!


Sumati This is exactly what I felt after reading this book. Eloquent review.


Seemita Srividya wrote: "Love your review Simi and I totally agree with you. This was my first James and I have to say that it did not resonate with me at all. In fact, I would say that I was bored with the long winding, n..."

Haha... You bet, Sri! Thanks for the shout; I feel a lot better in your company too :D I am not quite sure if it was the length of the sentences that was the dampener; rather, it was their futility that became a glaring wound. If there were any hidden meanings, they got further hidden in the garrulous maze! I suppose it was my mood; or perhaps, James' ;)


Seemita Tbrando wrote: "I felt the same when I tried to read The American...I could have finished it as it was written very well, but like how you so wonderfully said, "won my attention but not my involvement"--the same g..."

You echo my thoughts to the T, buddy! I haven't given up on him too; it is outright unjust to do so with just one brush, especially when the cause was not entirely lost on me. But perhaps, at some other time, at some other place, I might find a James' work to my fancy. Well, I certainly live on those discovery trails and I look forward to reading him a little more. Thank you for the endorsement :)


Seemita Anuradha wrote: "You've got me curious with this, Seemita. Wonderful review, as always! :D"

Thanks Anu! I hope you come up happier than I did; of course, if spooky is your thing, you might shower an extra star ;)


message 17: by Anuradha (new) - added it

Anuradha Oh, spooky is definitely my thing, Simi! ;P


message 18: by Himanshu (new)

Himanshu Oh well, I saw this in a book store at a really good price but I somehow managed to let it go. Maybe it was the genre, which I believe is one of the toughest to perfect, or maybe something else, but now I know I'd not be willing to read it right now. But Henry James is not out of the tbr. Maybe some other book at some other time. Seems it's the same case with you.


Seemita Jibran wrote: "Ah yes, Seemita, you make a compelling case of why James's prose has the potential to irritate the reader by pulling the gossamer cloth over their eyes sentence after sentence, until they cry out i..."

Despite my lukewarm response, I understand the appeal James' might have among readers, Jibran. So, it doesn't come as a surprise that his labyrinthine writing won your applause. I wish I could have said the same but the subtle line between assertiveness and aggressiveness was willfully and generously breached upon my reading, tossing me mostly on the latter's side. Since I don't have any particular aversion to long, flowing sentences, I would most certainly provide another James' work, a place, on my read-shelf. We will see how the screw turns after all ;) Thanks for sharing your percipient thoughts.


Seemita Sumati wrote: "This is exactly what I felt after reading this book. Eloquent review."

Glad to be sharing our little ire against James, Sumati ;)


Seemita Anuradha wrote: "Oh, spooky is definitely my thing, Simi! ;P"

Fabulous then! May James conjure magic for you! :D


Seemita Himanshu wrote: "Oh well, I saw this in a book store at a really good price but I somehow managed to let it go. Maybe it was the genre, which I believe is one of the toughest to perfect, or maybe something else, bu..."

I concur with your closing line, Himanshu; this could be a one-off case. Let's give him another chance, shall we? :) I am guessing The Portrait of a Lady to be a redeemer. Fingers crossed!


message 23: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· It's odd: I would have cited this one as the most accessible of James. Like Dolors, I found my attention wandering much further afield in other works of his, whereas this one tethered me far more. But these things are very individual, and I could see you enjoying James.....


Seemita ·Karen· wrote: "It's odd: I would have cited this one as the most accessible of James. Like Dolors, I found my attention wandering much further afield in other works of his, whereas this one tethered me far more. ..."

While I cannot pit this work against his others', I can fathom your sentiment, Karen. This book was certainly accessible, with no cryptic jargon hindering my experience; it was the consequential add-ons, instead, that dampened the deal for me. But yes, it wasn't that bad a read to deflect me completely from James either :)


message 25: by Florencia (new) - added it

Florencia Well, the universe is trying to tell me something. :P Today I went to buy some things and saw a bilingual edition of this novella for practically nothing. Of course, I ended up buying four different books, but now that I see your rating and read your thoughts, and how other friends felt about this one... I must confess, I'm afraid now. Horror stories are not my thing *trying to expand her horizons?*, but those many winding, endless sentences you mentioned make me feel even more frightened than the story itself! I think I'll read this when I really have the time. I do wonder when that'll be!
Superb review, S!


Seemita Florencia wrote: "Well, the universe is trying to tell me something. :P Today I went to buy some things and saw a bilingual edition of this novella for practically nothing. Of course, I ended up buying four differen..."

Thanks, Flor! You needn't worry a bit though; this book is on the borderline for me meaning it can well fall into your sparkling shelf of favorites :) But yeah, if you are looking to broaden your horizon, this is a good window to look from. The plot and writing evokes eerie, a bit haunting even but not horror or evil. A mild connotation is what I would say. I will, for sure, look out for your thoughts when you do embark on this path. Till then, I can wistfully envy you for yet another haul of books at a steal :D


Helle Well, I am hopelessly late to the party here, Simi, though I vaguely recalled seeing this review (on my phone, which is not for typing comments) a few days ago, and so now I can finally take the time to track it down and digest your ever eloquent thoughts on it. I totally, totally agree with you here! I nearly drowned in the length and abundance of sentences in James's The Ambassadors and recall assuming that this would be much better. Well, it may be shorter but, as you so aptly put it, it is still full of verbose blah-blahs - I just love that phrase! And for something which is supposedly a ghost story, there is simply too little to frigthen the reader, I felt, though there are some redeeming twists, as you mention. If you're only going to read one more novel by Henry James, I think, as Dolors mentioned, it should perhaps be The Portrait of a Lady (and then you can indulge in the rather beautiful film adaptation with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich afterwards).


Seemita Helle wrote: "Well, I am hopelessly late to the party here, Simi, though I vaguely recalled seeing this review (on my phone, which is not for typing comments) a few days ago, and so now I can finally take the ti..."

You are never late to the party, dear Helle! Thanks for reading my rant and granting it not just the tag of eloquence but also your support! And you are so right; even the ghost angle remained painfully underdeveloped, setting no adrenaline aflutter which was sedated by the endless sentences. I had a tad high hope from this book but as you and Dolors have pointed at, I will let TPoaL to do the talking, once more. Hopefully, I will not be forced to use the verbose blah-blahs again in my review ;) The movie, at its other side, is quite definitely a juicy carrot, of course :D Ah! Thanks for your lovely musings. (view spoiler)


message 29: by Sookie (new)

Sookie Watched adaptation. Staying away from this for now.


message 30: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Ack, from the bits and pieces I remember of it years ago, I'm saddened that it was the first James you happened across. I'm not a big James fan: I didn't care for the character portraits in The Portrait of a Lady but I did enjoy The American, one that is underrated, I think. What I did admire was your literary, erudite, gut-propelling breakdown of the sometimes-pretentiousness found in books: "But its blooming is excruciatingly contricted amid the very many winding, endless sentences, almost binding the book like a curse." Aha.


message 31: by Ilse (new)

Ilse Reading your eloquent review, and subsequently Jibran's, and then reading them again, and again, including the surpassing interesting threads, II cannot pretend I was not sufficiently warned, Seemita. Your marvelous review still piqued my curiosity about the endless sentences, my dear (like children need to experience whether the bee's stinge does really hurt? Daisy Miller didn't resonate much with me). TPOAL is calling for ages now, but knowing I would choke in it because of lack of time, I'll try to be sensible and stick to read another novella by James first :)).


Seemita Sookie wrote: "Watched adaptation. Staying away from this for now."

Thanks for the alert, Sookie!


Seemita Cheryl wrote: "Ack, from the bits and pieces I remember of it years ago, I'm saddened that it was the first James you happened across. I'm not a big James fan: I didn't care for the character portraits in [book:T..."

You are too kind, Cheryl. Thanks for your warm nod, my dear! I am certainly giving James another chance; a borderline case deserves atleast a second diagnosis, right? ;) And thank you for recommending 'The American' which was quite definitely not on my radar but now, firmly is. And the winding sentences? Well who knows if they can turn a magic carpet and fly us away to unknown skies? :)


Seemita Ilse wrote: "Reading your eloquent review, and subsequently Jibran's, and then reading them again, and again, including the surpassing interesting threads, II cannot pretend I was not sufficiently warned, Seemi..."

Haha... I know that feeling, Ilse! Just to take another step, dip our finger and touch the water for ourselves to know its texture... I so get it! Please go ahead and give this book a shot if it intrigues you; it certainly wasn't a washout for me as well. And with the varying reception James' prose has received, it could well be worth your time. Best of luck! And may things ease out at your end and you heave a sigh of respite soon :)


message 35: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King I'm not too wild about James Seemita and it was really interesting reading friends' reviews on this book. They are so diverse!


Seemita Lynne wrote: "I'm not too wild about James Seemita and it was really interesting reading friends' reviews on this book. They are so diverse!"

I agree, Lynne. Since response to this work has been rather diverse, take advantage of this absence of majority and give him a chance I say :)


message 37: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Well put Seemita!


Seemita Lynne wrote: "Well put Seemita!"

:)


message 39: by Deea (new)

Deea Seemita, I read more works by Henry James and I had the same impression about all of them as you so well describe above. The lackluster writing has a few (but very few) gems and I found everything I read by him too static, too boring to make me want to read something new by him. I really did enjoy reading your review though which might be a lot more eloquent and charming than anything I read by Henry James.


Seemita Deea wrote: "Seemita, I read more works by Henry James and I had the same impression about all of them as you so well describe above. The lackluster writing has a few (but very few) gems and I found everything ..."

Haha... Thanks Deea! You are a sweetheart. I love your gentle critiques; succinct and to-the-point. James can be unnerving in his incessant shower of words; many of us are looking for sunshine instead, right? ;) While your response to him is definitely a warning to me. I might give him just another chance before handing him a wide berth. Fingers crossed!


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