The Turn of the Screw (CBR10 #64)

Image result for turn of the screw book cover

This was the Read Harder 2018 task I was looking least forward to, and I managed to push it off until the last possible moment, but at least I am completing the challenge this year. Task 24 was to “read an assigned book you hated (or never finished)”. In reality I have very few books that I never completed, and the ones that I hated I don’t really feel emotionally prepared to ever read again (Beloved is a tough book, The Great Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald can fuck right off, and I’ve already read Lord of the Flies three times and The Metamorphosis twice so I feel as though I have done my time). It took months before I realized that I had a book sitting on my shelf that I had taken from my mother because I intended to get back to it all along, and just hadn’t yet. It was time, 20 years later, to give The Turn of the Screw another chance.

It wasn’t this book’s fault I never read it when it was assigned my sophomore year of high school. I missed the week we covered it in English as I was attending my grandfather’s funeral and my teacher exempted me from the assignments surrounding it as long as I did other parts of the unit. But Henry James, and his influence, are everywhere in the literary world of trans-Atlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and he knew and influenced nearly every major writer on either side of the Atlantic during the same time frame.

The story concerns an unnamed governess who finds a position caring for two children in the English countryside, eight-year-old Miles and six-year-old Flora. Both children are sweet, and the governess feels an instant connection with the precocious Miles. He is supposed to be at boarding school but was expelled for mysterious reasons. The governess can’t understand what a boy as angelic as Miles could possibly have done to get expelled so suddenly and irrevocably.

As she watches the children, she notices a man watching them from afar. He frightens her, and she discovers from the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, that this shadow matches the description of the master’s former valet, Peter Quint. The governess begins to see another ghost: Miss Jessel, her predecessor. The governess learns that Quint and Miss Jessel had an affair, and that both died mysteriously and that the two may have had an inappropriate relationship with the children. She begins to suspect that the children see the ghosts, too, and that the ghosts are determined to corrupt the children somehow. She vows to save them from these spectral predators from beyond the grave.

There has been debate over the years about whether the ghosts are real, or the governess is slowly losing her mind. Another one posits that the true villain of the story might be Mrs. Grose. It’s possible that Mrs. Grose, disgruntled at losing her place as the children’s primary caretaker slowly drives the governess to madness by planting disturbing ideas in her mind. These all fit in with what James is known for: describing the internal states of mind and social dynamics of his characters and making use of a style in which ambiguous or contradictory motives and impressions were overlaid in the discussion of a character’s psyche. This is on full display with this novel – we are left to puzzle out what we think is really happening, and the novel can be viewed from any number of vantage points. Its no wonder the ambiguity of his late works have been compared to impressionist paintings.

As far as the novel is concerned, I don’t think it has quite the same shock value it had when it was first published, but it still maintains an eerie quality. If gothic literature or classic ghost stories are your thing than you might want to add this to your list is you haven’t yet, but I can’t really recommend it to anyone else.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We begin our ELEVENTH year in the coming days and are always looking for new readers who want to review what they’ve read and help us raise money to say “fuck you” to cancer.

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Ghostland (CBR10 #22)

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

One of the ways books find their way to me is via podcast. I listen to a few pop culture and history podcasts and usually the lovely hosts have book recommendations. This particular one comes via Dave Gonzales of Storm of Spoilers and Fighting in the War Room. His description of the book both sold me and really is a fantastic encapsulation of what the book does; “GHOSTLAND … tracks other American ‘hauntings’ and reveals how those stories are the product of racism and sexism a good 80% of the time” caught my interest immediately and went directly onto my to read list for the year.

Ghostland hovers around several interest areas of mine, and for a few years I was an active part of the dark tourism that he covers in this book (ghost tours and paranormal programming at historic sites and buildings). So, why not unpack the culture that leads to these things in the first place now that I’m safely on the other side (I had many reservations about doing these programs). There is a social undercurrent that feeds the stories we tell, and choose not to tell, and it extends as far as our ghost stories.

This book tells the story of the dead by focusing on the problems of the living; how do we deal with stories about ghosts and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed to be haunted? Colin Dickey pays attention to what can be known about the stories of a haunting story, but then also tracks the ways in which changes to the story, and sometimes even the “facts” themselves are changed. Dickey uses his personal experiences and research to tell a version of American history you may not be familiar with. Or, you might actually be familiar with it as the major weakness of Dickey’s work is that he is often telling his reader the story of some of the most famous hauntings around the states (Winchester Mystery House, anyone?), which can make for an occasional slog of a read. But, for me, it was all made worth it by Dickey unpacking the inherent racism and misogyny of the ghost stories that populate our collective conscious.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

#stickingittocancer #onebookatatime

Changeless (CBR4 #4)

 

I would like to start out by saying that if you have not yet read this series and would like to read Changeless by  Gail Carriger without knowing  plot details, please skip the rest of the review and know that I quite enjoyed the book: it was a nice easy read with plenty of plot and some great characterization. If you like crime/mystery solving, steampunk or think you might this is a good read and enjoy. Now off you go.

For the rest of us, who have read the first book Soulless, in the Parasol Protectorate series and fell as in love with certain characters, namely Lord Akeldama, Floote, and Prof. Lyall, as I did, you will be a little sad as they do not see much “on camera” time this book.  Where Soulless spent much of its time building the world of alexia’s London and didn’t get to the meat and potatoes of the mystery part of the plot until about half way through we are hit with the mystery up front in this novel. In the first lines of the book we are made aware that something is not right in London and Conall is off to figure it out, leaving his wife, Lady Alexia Maccon, behind.

But not for long, as is the standard Alexia move. She is rapidly using her connections and new position as muhjah in Queen Victoria’s shadow government to piece together why werewolves and vampires are returned to their human state (in essence they are change-less) and why ghosts exorcisms have occured. One of the problems I had with this book is that there are too many issues going on all at the same time and none seemed fully realized. But that may just be a sign of a small sophomoric slump.

For example: we are reintroduced to Ivy (and Ivy’s hats), find out she has a fiancé whom Alexia has never met and an increasing flirtations with the claviger Tunstell – who’s an actor (gasp!), Alexia’s sister Felicity is having trouble with dear old mama and has been foisted off on her sister, the rest of the Woolsey pack has arrived back from the Indian subcontinent and brought with them their human counterparts for a post deployment camp out on the castle lawns, Major Channing the Gamma of the pack makes an ass out of himself immediately upon meeting Alexia but may become useful at some point and we meet the male clothes wearing Madam Lefoux who is working as a hat shopkeeper and an underground scientist and the creator of Alexia’s newest parasol as ordered by Conall, who’s gone off to Scotland to attend to his former pack’s lack of an alpha.

This is all in the first three chapters.  No lie.

The mystery is solved; there is a trip through the aether on a dirigible, our heroine escapes from certain death. But it just wasn’t as fun as the first.  This is because I enjoyed reading the world building more than I enjoyed the mystery solving, particularly as this book didn’t have a satisfying big bad like the Hypocras Club from Soulless.

Would I tell you to read this book? Yes. Because in all honesty it was a fun enjoyable read, and I am just a little cranky about the ending and the fact that it is raining outside as I write this. But, I am looking forward to the next book.