Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well, I'm feeling proud of myself. I've already read three of the books on my list for 2006, and am working on two more. It shouldn't be surprising, since I do respond well to lists; but somehow I really thought reading at whim would overcome any resolutions. I did get terribly sidetracked by Rebecca Wells' latest novel, Ya-Yas in Bloom (it's always fun to revisit characters--like seeing old friends), and a Ruth Rendell mystery, but then hauled myself back with The Turn of the Screw. [By the way, I added to my 2006 list after posting about it; it now includes about thirty other books that have been patiently waiting on the shelf in my bedroom for who knows how long.]

Henry James is in love with commas. I've decided I don't think he's a very good writer, but this may be unfair since it's been ages since I read any of his other books; however, it's annoying to be constantly rereading sentences in an attempt to discover what the author is trying to say. And he really does love commas. I'm quite fond of them myself, but make the effort, at least, to try, to the best of my ability, to control this tendency. (It was shocking how much I wanted to add 'like' and 'you know' to that last sentence...)

Anyway, I remember The Turn of the Screw as being a bizarre book, but I'd forgotten how absurd it is. I suppose in a way it's scary, but I kept wanting to laugh at the melodrama, not to mention the inexplicable lack of clarity. Was it that he couldn't think of things horrible enough, or that he didn't want to shock his readers? Why aren't we told what exactly happened in that house? I found upon this reading that I didn't much care, but it's strange nevertheless. Perhaps James thought that two creepy children, two ghosts, and two impressionable women (mix together in a remote mansion, shake, and serve chilled) were enough to terrify without the bother of details. Also, I wonder why he set it up as a story being told to a group of people, then didn't return to them in the end and give their reaction. If he felt that would be anticlimactic, why didn't he change the beginning? What was wrong with his editor, darn it, and why is this a classic? With these questions filling my mind, I'm unsure why I decided to read the book again. Hopefully this will remind me not to try a third time.

1 comment:

Indri said...

I just read "Turn" myself, because a playwright whose work I was covering referred to it as the major influence on the play he'd written. You're right, it's overblown. But I suppose that's the way they liked it, backt then. Remember too that originally it was serialized, with everything that entails--the repetition, the breathlessness. I too wondered why there was no return to the group of jaded listeners who figured so prominently in the framing device.

What do you think of the suggestion some scholars have made that Miss Jessel and Peter Quint were inappropriately sexual with Flora and Miles? If such were the case, it would explain why James was so vague; he would be leaving the details to the reader's imagination.