This is number 19 – the book published before you were born. “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, was published in 1898 so thankfully, that falls firmly in that category.
It’s a novella which was originally a serial, and it’s a Christmas paranormal story too. I am interested in cross genre and I like the idea that Christmas and ghost stories are intertwined – something about the veil between worlds getting thinner in the height of winter. My other choice was “A Christmas Carol”, of course – another serial published concerning ghosts and hauntings, although it also includes time travel, of course. Seriously, Dickens was definitely ahead of his time. I decided to read the James because I’ve read the Dickens more than once, and it was time to read something new.
The opening of the book is on Christmas eve, around a fireplace. One of the guests claims to have the best story ever (I might be paraphrasing) and promises to tell it. When the story arrives, it’s from the point of view of a nameless governess, who takes a job in a remote house in England. She has two young charges, Miles and Flora, as well as a housekeeper to keep her company.
It’s fewer than 150 pages long but took me longer than it would to read a book three times that. The writing, the dialogue is so densely packed that I had to read every word, twice, to understand it and what James is trying to say. To be honest, even when I finished it I had to look up the plot to make sure I understood it. i enjoyed being challenged – most of the books I read are not stretching, mainly because I like to read as a bit of downtime. This is something I need to address, actually – I can’t keep taking the easy route with books. Those ones are fun but they are not always the best choice for me as I’m not learning anything new.
Anyway, back to the plot. I’m not going to reveal the details, of course, but basically the governess starts seeing the ghosts of people dotted around the grounds of the house. I thought it was so interesting as an exploration of mental health – is she seeing the ghosts or is her mind playing tricks on her? Can other people see them and are pretending not to? Just so you know – James does not answer those questions. Not many questions are actually answered so don’t read this expecting a nice neat answer.
Although I probably won’t read this again, I did enjoy the change of pace in narrative and thankfully, it wasn’t too spooky!