Review Blog

Jun 20 2010

The turn of the screw by Henry James. Retold by Pauline Frances

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Fast Track Classics. Evans Publishing, 2009.
(Age 12-16) Recommended reading level 9-12. Pitched at Primary level readers, this novella seeks to re-tell the ghost story of the same title written by Henry James. This is not a story that is suited to reworking as an abridged children's version as it is complex and demands that the reader analyse the characters and events beyond the textual narrative. Readers will want to know what is going on and why things are happening. Most will not be capable of questioning the faculties of the characters, pondering alternative motives or appreciating the psychological manipulation that occurs within the story. There is nothing improper for children in the text, however the ambiguous nature of the recount and necessity for the reader to interpret the events and decide for themselves what is happening make it unsuitable for most children. The situation of a governess caring for two young children in a large manor house, with only the company of a housekeeper to help her deal with mysterious happenings may be foreign and unappealing to children. This is because the setting is simplistic, yet the events that unfold are extremely complex. Contemporary readers will be confused by the absence of ghost story elements that are familiar to them. Modern children may also be completely bored by the twee conversational language and the unnamed central character's ridiculously hysterical reactions to events which are fairly benign compared with most plots. Being seemingly at odds with existing engaging literature for young children, I considered that the story may be intended as motivational material for reluctant or struggling lower secondary readers. Despite being a classic tale, which demands a more mature examination, it could still be considered insulting to this audience because the frequent pictures are juvenile. Few disinclined readers would be interested by the language, setting and lack of clarity within this book and I find it hard to recommend.
Rob Welsh

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