Drove out to Manhattan last week to speak with my editor about a new novel (more on that soon). The trip is a rough seven hours East on I-80 and there was a lot of time to burn. I made some use of it by downloading a couple audio books over at Audible, the company that did a sweet job on The Man from Primrose Lane.
I brought two books along with me. The first was Defending Jacob, which was a murder mystery that came highly recommended. It was well written and well told. But in the end, little more than grief porn and parental paranoia. Not my thing. The other story, though, was a classic: The Turn of the Screw, published in 1898. And its mood and tone fit perfectly well with the New England autumn backdrop.
The yarn begins the way so many good old stories do, with a character coming forth to explain why this story he’s about to tell you is the most depraved, most frightening thing you’ve ever heard. Lovecraft does this a lot, this circus barking to ramp up suspense. We’ve somehow lost this over the last hundred years, with most editors and writers preferring to just get us right into the story as if they’re embarrassed to sell it too much. Which is a shame, because it really does add a keen sense of suspicion.
Simple story, well done. A young woman applies to become the governess of two children who live on a country estate. The last governess died under mysterious circumstances and may be haunting the place. That’s about it. But the execution is lyrical, wonderful. James slowly turns the screw until the sense of dread about Bly manor is palpable. And he’s daring enough to leave any real explanation to the reader. Is the woman going crazy? Or are the ghosts real? Oh, and it packs a hell of a wallop in one last sentence.
If you pick up a copy, put in on the shelf between Jane Eyre and Rebecca. But I recommend going the Audible route and heading out for a long road trip. Somewhere desolate and cold.