The classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James sounded very interesting to me, so I decided to give it a go. When I read A Pale View of Hills, I saw it compared to The Turn of the Screw because of the unreliable narrator and the need for very close reading. I love ghost stories, and I love stories that hint at a variety of possible conclusions. It is much creepier to me when possibilities are just hinted at. It’s unsettling to be left wondering, and unsettling is what a great ghost story should be. In this case, the reader can’t tell throughout the story whether there are really ghosts or if the narrator, a governess hired to look after the niece and nephew of her employer and told to never, ever bother him, is insane or going insane. At the end of the story, the reader is still unsure, and there are many possible interpretations. James never tells us what happened but leaves it up to the reader. In addition to the innuendo of madness, there is also plenty of sexual innuendo that is brilliantly done. Again, the reader is left wondering what really happened. It is an unsolved mystery.
If I had any problem with this book, it would be James’ writing style, which is rather convoluted (one reviewer called it “labyrinthine,” which is spot on). He uses ALL THE PUNCTUATION!!! One reviewer on Goodreads said, “WORDS WORDS WORDS IS THE HOUSE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS IS SHE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS ARE THEY ALL CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS NO IT MUST BE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS NO SHE MUST BE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS CRAZY WORDS SICKNESS WORDS WORDS WORDS DEATH THE END.” I got a laugh out of that and can see where this would not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially most modern-day readers, and it does take some work to read it. However, this labyrinthine style of writing contributes to the mystery and outright confusion that the reader is supposed to feel, and thus is completely appropriate.
You really have to read closely and drink it in and see all the layers to appreciate the creepiness and terror of this book, but it is well worth the effort.