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Customer Review

on June 21, 2002
I've heard a great deal of criticism directed both at this novel and at Henry James himself. "The Turn of the Screw" has been derided as dull and uneventful, while James's writing is scornfully dismissed because of its complexity. I found myself quite surprised at this negative perspective - "The Turn of the Screw" is fascinating and remarkably entertaining.
The story itself is fairly simplistic on the surface. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been a simple "things that go bump in the night" ghost story of no consequence. However, the ambiguity of the narration brings the story a great deal of depth. Are we to trust the governess's story, or is the entire plot merely a figment of her imagination or a neurotic response to her sexuality? The brilliance here is in the wide range of interpretation. The entire novel can be taken either way (or both ways at once) equally well, which is fascinating.
Many reviewers have (unfavorably) commented on the writing style of Henry James, noting its complexity and verbosity. While his prose can be difficult to master (I had to read several sentences multiple times to decipher them), the complex language does not merely use extra words for the sake of making the story longer. Instead, every bit of detail in the sentences modifies and elaborates on the text, helping greatly to create the haziness that permeates "The Turn of the Screw." I thoroughly enjoyed the style of writing here, and this is coming from somebody who criticized the language in "Wuthering Heights" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." The complexity enhances the novel, rather than weakening it.
All in all, I was astonished by the great quality of "The Turn of the Screw." One last note - I highly recommend the Norton Critical Edition, featuring authorial commentary, reviews, and criticism. An excellent choice.
11 helpful votes
12 helpful votes
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