Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The turn of the screw

I've heard so many things about The Turn of the Screw,  and about its being the first horror/suspense fiction.  I've also heard about the movies that are based on it, so I've decided to tackle them both:  read the book, watch "The Innocents". 

The book is primarily the diary of a governess that is being read aloud during a Christmas Eve gathering by the fire - already the setting is ideal for attracting the suspense type of story-telling.  A governess new at a place, discovers secrets about her predecessors in the house, her master, as well as about the children in her charge.  Normally, these components would be sufficient to keep my interest quite high.  Being a diary, however, I also felt that, at least in the beginning, the tone was very calm, and I wondered whether the effect would lose its edge because it was not experienced first-hand, but rather described. 

I needn't have worried.  Even as descriptions, the scenes that should be scary are so, and the language used is spot-on for encouraging the appropriate reaction in a group. While reading, I tried imagining how the guy would read it aloud - tried reading it aloud myself - and I found that the intonation was excellent, the capital words used showing the peak of emotion - this is really suspense!  I remember talking about this book in my book club, and already there were people who, after having read it once, did not wish to read it again...

The story-telling is attention-grasping, with only some middle chapters providing a cushion away from all excitement.  The ending is T-O-T-A-L-L-Y unexpected and contrary to all previous practise of the times... also, very ambiguous - who is the devil? Quint or the governess?  Excellent trick - I simply loved it! (sorry, I can't say any more on this!)

The only complaint I have is that I only got to read one side of the story - the governess'.  Especially for the children, I did not feel their characters were fully developed in the story, while they are supposed to be the main actors of this relationship (if there was one) with Quint and Jessel.  Perhaps that was why I can analyse the whole story from two almost different perspectives - the ambiguity is due to the "secrets" left unsaid. But, on the other hand, perhaps that is exactly the purpose of this story!

I've had  "The Innocents" for quite some time now, but never gotten around to actually watching it.  Once I had finished the book, I thought that the movie would complement it perfectly.  Deborah Kerr stars in it, as the governess trying to find what has happened in the house.  Now, in general, the movie follows the book in content, but the main differentiation for me was the type of "corruption" to the children.  Whereas in the book I could almost imagine two child-molesters, the movie centred on the pair as "possessing" the children - which in turn adds one more element in the story-telling...  Very good adaptation, very good performance by Kerr but an even better by the children, this is a film best watched like I did, half-asleep (even though I am a veteran in horror movies, I did have my startling moments during the peaks in the story) 

Read for mystery & suspense challenge

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