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Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: The Turning by Francine Prose

TITLE: The Turning                                 AUTHOR: Francine Prose
PUB: Harper Teen                                    PUB DATE: 9/25/12
FORMAT: pb ARC                                   SOURCE: pub

Jack is babysitting for the summer on an isolated island with no Wi-Fi, no cell service, and no one else around but a housekeeper and two very peculiar children. He immediately senses something sinister-and it's not just the creepy black house he's living in. Soon he is feeling terribly isolated and alone, but then he discovers there are others. The problem is, he's the only who can see them. As secrets are revealed and darker truths surface, Jack desperately struggles to maintain a grip on reality. He knows what he sees, and he isn't crazy…Or is he?

Where does reality end and insanity begin? The Turn of the Screw reinvented for modern-day teens, by National Book Award finalist Francine Prose

THREE WORDS: Eerie Creeptastic Fun

MY REVIEW: Francine Prose's The Turning is a modern YA retelling of the classic The Turn of the Screw. I've never read the original, but I am familiar with the basic storyline and Prose's updated version is a great example of a retelling with a twist. The Turning may not have blown me away, but I did have a lot of fun creeping myself out while reading it.

Jake is spending his summer on an isolated island babysitting the two young chargers of a wealthy man. Jake, the two young kids (Miles and Flora) and the cook Mrs. Gross are the only inhabitants on the island and the house has no phone, tv or internet connection. Jake is hesitant about the job but it pays well and he needs the money for college. Even before Jake arrives at the big, black house, he experiences an uneasiness about the place; an uneasiness that is only increased once he meets the odd, overly polite children and learns about the tragic history surrounding the house. And when Jake starts to see people that no one else sees he struggles with his grip on reality. What's real? Who's lying? What can Jake really believe?

The Turning has a lot going for it: a genuinely eerie and captivating plot, a likable MC and a hauntingly palpable atmosphere and setting. One does not need to be familiar with The Turn of the Screw to enjoy or understand the modern YA retelling. Prose follows a very similar plot and keeps many of the same names as the original, but she definitely adds her own twists and turns to make the story fresh.

This is an epistolary novel, or narrated through the use of letters. In this case, the story plays out through Jake's letters to his girlfriend and dad and their letters to him. I've found that this narration style very rarely works well or usually reads awkwardly, and this book is no exception. When Jake's letters to Sophie are ten or more pages and recount days worth of activity and conversations they are bound to feel contrived and unbelievable. I would have rather the book was merely just told from Jake's POV and included a few letters here and there. But I do like that it is told from Jake's POV as this allows readers to really experience his emotions, thoughts and confusion. We only get to see people, places, things and reality through Jake's eyes and I think this is very important to the reader's overall experience and creates an immediate connection between Jake and readers.

Prose creates a really haunting, eerie and atmospheric setting with the isolated island, big black house and sprawling landscape. It really is that classic horror movie/story type of setting that gives you excited chills. The palpable fear and evil is made even that more chilling by the isolation of the island. The big, twisty, seemingly never ending house is fantastically scary and the kind of place I'd love to go ghost hunting in. Of course, with an isolated setting one must suspend a certain level of disbelief and merely accept it for what it is. For example, the childrens' uncle, who lives in the city and hired Jake, does not allow any phones, tv or internet on the island nor does he want Jake or Mrs. Gross to contact him for ANY reason. Now it's hard to believe that even the most isolated places wouldn't have at least a phone for emergencies, but this place doesn't. I found that the sooner I stopped questioning things like this and just went with it, that I enjoyed the story more, which I think we must often do when it comes to the horror genre.

Jake is a likable and relatble MC; he isn't overly remarkable or special, but his average-ness is comforting. I never had any problem believing in his authenticity or convictions. Mrs. Gross is an easy to like and laid back lady. She's funny and nurturing and genuinely cares for the children and Jake too. Now those kids, Miles and Flora, they are definitely an interesting pair. One of things that scares the beejeezus out of me in horror movies or stories is creepy kid ghosts, and while Miles and Flora are NOT ghosts, they are still some strange, creepy-ass kids! Miles, especially, gave me goosebumps and the shivers, but in a really fun way.

Once Jake encounters what he assumes are ghosts, Prose deviates from the original story and weaves her own shocking and twisty story. It was fascinating to witness Jake fall into a kind of frenzied madness and fear, and the author does a great job of creating very tangible emotions. While I enjoyed most of the story, I was pretty disappointed with the abrupt and loose ending. So many questions are left unanswered and so many things that seem like vital clues aren't discussed. It just feels like so much of what the author built throughout the story (world-building, character development, atmosphere) crumbles because of the unsatisfying ending.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: The Turning is a loyal, yet fresh retelling of a classic, but more importantly it's an entertaining and captivating horror story. The story may not be mind-blowingly original or wildly unpredictable and the ending disappointed,  but I thought, overall, it was a lot of scary fun.


Connect with the author: Goodreads 
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository
Francine Prose (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American novelist. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968, and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. She has sat on the board of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award, and her novel Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is now teaching at Bard College.


aparajita said...

Eerie...i'm sure i'll love it.

great review...considering getting it..

Le' Grande Codex

Maji Bookshelf said...

Oh wow a ton of horror and fun sounds great but disappointing ending and unpredictable-ness? plus I'm not a fan of male POVs

still, great review!

- Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

Anna @ Literary Exploration said...

Ohhhhh I'm glad you liked this one, I have it sitting on my shelf to read and I've been wondering if people are liking it. Great review!!

Literary Exploration