Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: The TURNING by Francine Prose

Sorry I've been AWOL lately. Thanksgiving kicked my butt, and then the stomach virus that swept through my house stomped on me and left me for dead in the bathroom floor.

But I'm back now.
And I have a confession: I've been in a reading slump.
 I can't even remember all the DNF's I've had recently. It's like nothing holds my attention, or I get annoyed with the characters, or just flat-out lose interest. I've considered doing a post of Books I Didn't Finish and why I put them down, but to tell the truth, there have been so many I don't think I could remember them all. Does anyone else ever have these spells of readerly apathy? I used to force myself to finish a book, even if I didn't like it, but now I've realized that life is short and by George, I don't have to read anything I don't want to read.

On to a review of something I actually did finish!

This is a modern YA retelling of "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, which I have never read. So I didn't know what was coming, which is good, because I hear this is a pretty faithful retelling as far as plot goes.
The book is told in letter format, as Jack writes home to his girlfriend Sophie and his Dad about his summer babysitting job on Crackstone Landing.
(I think there's something wrong with me, but I found the name "Crackstone" unintentionally funny. Like something from the Flinstones.)
Jack's babysitting Miles and Flora, two orphaned kids whose guardian has them living on this island in a family home with no TV, internet, or any connection to the outside world.
Weirdness and mystery are afoot. The kids are creepy. Jack is freaked out. It's all nicely atmospheric and I could even *almost* overlook the unrealistic narrative voice that sounded nothing like a 16 year old boy.
And then it ends. Things were just getting nicely dark and sinister when suddenly, the book was over. There were lots of questions left unanswered, lots of time spent building up a feeling of dread or suspicion toward different characters, but nothing came of it. Having never read the original, I can't say if this is how things were in the James' story. I guess the point is to wonder what exactly went on, how much Jack imagined, what really happened with the kids and the people who lived on the island before. But there were so many hints and allusions to things that had happened before Jack arrived, it really felt unsatisfactory to me to never have a resolution to the questions. The ending felt really fast, and Jack's mental unraveling played out in just a few pages. I was thinking, "Alright! Here we go...this is getting good." But sadly, the book stopped right about then.
I think the book was fairly successful for what it was: a short novel about paranoia and ghosts and a boy questioning his sanity. But I wanted more plot and more answers. However, it's a fast read with nice atmosphere and it's a change of pace from most YA books out right now. It wasn't my favorite, but it did have good points.



  1. That's pretty much how I felt about this one, too. It kept me interested, but I wanted a better developed plot. To me, the book felt incomplete.

    Bummer about the reading slump. I will get those ARCs in the mail to you soon so you'll have something to lift you out of your slump!

  2. Oh no, if there is something I can't stand it's a bad ending! I want answers and I just don't like open endings. Too bad :( I was really looking forward to this story, because I like the creepy sound! Hmmm. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and I hope you will get out of your reading slump soon! )


  3. With all that thar tummy viruses perhaps you should've
    reviewed "The Guts Turning"???

    Sorry about that.

  4. Very interesting - I haven't heard of this one.

  5. Hm. I've read the original, so I'll probably skip this one- knowing what the outcome is and all. It's kind of a weird pick for a retelling, honestly. I mean, even though it's a classic, it's not one of the more widely-read classics, especially among the target audience of this. Hm.


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