Tired of rereading Dracula” or “Frankenstein” (or “Harry Potter” or “Twilight”) each and every Halloween season? Looking for a new horror story to keep you company as you sip your steaming mug of spiced cider by the light of a menacing-looking jack-o-lantern? Have I got the perfect story for you: Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw.”
Coming in at just under 100 pages, “Turn of the Screw” is a quick read, although it’s not the easiest. One thing is for sure, it’s a ghost story. Err—it might be a ghost story. Or, perhaps it chronicles the ravings of an off-her-rocker governess. But, still, it could be a ghost story … actually, that’s for you to decide.
The story starts with friends telling each other scary stories one Christmas eve (yes, this story has dual holiday appeal). We are then thrust into the viewpoint of a young governess who accepts a job caring for a handsome bachelor’s orphaned niece and nephew—the nephew having just been expelled from his school for mysterious, unstated reasons.
At the gothic estate, the governess encounters two ghost lovers on several occasions. Convinced that the children also sense and even interact with the ghosts, the governess begins to worry about their safety and puzzles over the ghosts’ intentions. The children unwaveringly declare that they have not seen any ghosts at all, but the governess does not believe them. She clings to them tightly for their own good.
Much, much more transpires, but it’d be a shame to give away the shocking ending. This is a novella that you must read the full way through in order to fully appreciate.
Read it with a friend or loved one. This story lends itself perfectly to discussion. Every reader will come up with a slightly different explanation as to who the ghosts are, what they want with the children, if the ghosts actually exist or are hallucinations of aforementioned governess, and even as to whether a dark sexual subtext explains it all.
Try something different this Halloween season, you won’t regret it!
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