I’m embarrassed to say that it took me a few episodes to realize the Haunting of Bly Manor was a loose reimagining of Henry James’ seminal classic, “The Turn of the Screw.” It’s pretty how long it took me to put it all together–the disoriented nanny, the two haunted children, the apparition in the tower–before I finally sat up and yelled at my husband, “Holy crap! It’s the Turn of the Screw!” What can I say? I’m a little slow up on the uptake these days.
Naturally, I had to download the audiobook narrated by the lovely Emma Thompson to revisit this uncanny tale. In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to read the hardback instead of following a dramatized narration because the writing is DENSE, and it’s easy to get lost in the ambiguity of, well, everything.
In a word, this book can best described as ambiguous. Nothing is straight forward; it’s all just hints and euphemisms. My best advice is to read this very slowly and in small doses because the flowery writing is crazy-making! Also, it would be fun to turn this into a drinking game and take a shot every time the word “prodigious” appears in the governesses’ long, convoluted ramblings about innocence and corruption. Henry James clearly loved that word.
Did the Netflix series do the book justice? Hmm…yes and no. The show beautifully captured the isolated Bly Manor homestead and the overall sense of isolation and doom. It also followed the storyline of Bly Manor’s resident spirits: two former employees who may or may not have been having—gasp—sex! Of course, those words were never spoken, but the subversive text certainly indicates they were very much “corrupted.” Makes me want to clutch my pearls!
This is where I ran into problems with the book. It was hard to figure out what exactly was going on since nothing is fully explained. I think it’s safe to assume the resident ghosts were doing the nasty and the nanny took it upon herself to shield her wards from corruption. In doing so, she makes matters worse, thus turning the screw into madness and destruction.
I could only get on at all by taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.
The problem with the show, however, is that there’s very little guesswork. Sure, the governess seemed nutty at first, but you come to realize in further episodes that the house is indeed haunted. I suppose this works better for the mass audience, but I’m more creeped out by the notion that all the craziness that went down in Bly Manor was all in the nanny’s head. I mean, really, do we need everything spelled out for us these days? The imagination is so much more fun!
As expected, the book is by far better—and it’s definitely worth a read for fans of the show. Of course, you don’t get to look for the surprise ghosts (aka “Easter eggs”) in every scene. But trust me, there are plenty of Easter eggs in the form of symbols and themes. One, which I particularly enjoyed, is the mentioning of a ship lost at sea. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling you have while following the Governess’s journey into madness. With her at the helm, we’re helplessly drifting off into craziness at every turn, rolling with the waves into a wasteland of nothingness. The mansion in itself feels like a sinking ship, which is masterful foreshadowing for the impending tragedy.
No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
Spoiler alert! The literary version doesn’t end well for the young boy named Miles, who was kicked out of boarding school for reasons unknown. All we know is that he relished being bad, and it bothered the governess to no end! She took it up on herself to save the children, believing that she was the only one who could save them. This calls into question the destructiveness of the hero-complex, and the motives behind incompetent fools who feel they can protect others from inevitable forces.
As you can see, there is a LOT packed into this book—and it’s up to you to tease apart all the subversive ramblings about innocence, corruption, the downfall of heroism, and many, many more themes. Is it scary? Eh, depends on how you look at it. To some, it’s a ghost story; to others, it’s a story of a misguided woman descending into madness. Either way, it’s an interesting ride that goes from 60 to zero in a matter of seconds. The abrupt ending still leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment…but I do have some theories. As for the TV series, the mystery is tied together in a neat little bow, which I’m sure appeals plenty of people who need a clear resolution. As for me, I relish the intrigue of a good unsolved mystery.