It's a remarkable day when I actually finish my out-of-genre book and write the post about it, in the month I actually intended to. Well, here goes. This month was another random grab off the shelf, The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I'm not sure how I ended up with this book, as I didn't buy it for a class. But, since I hadn't read it before, I figured I'd give it a shot.
I do have a little bit of a weakness for stories that take place at isolated manors (Rebecca is another one I happen to like) and English literature from the 19th century in general (I know, Henry James was born in America, but he ended up in England, according to Wikipedia, and Emma from the Jane Austen book can die in a fire, but I digress).
At any rate, these novellas were a fun diversion for me. One thing that is always interesting to me is how writing conventions change over time. For example: "said Miss Tina" and "cried Miss Tina" appear on one page of The Aspern Papers. I criticize modern authors who do this, and in fact the self-editing advice I've read cautions against it (word order, that is). Then there are the adverbs in speaker attributions: "she dismally sounded," or "she quite sincerely sighed," for example. And the use of unconventional words in speaker attributions (including "sounded" and "sighed"). I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again, but be careful about words you use to indicate speech. Pepper your writing with too many odd ones, and soon you'll have people "grimacing" sentences. And that doesn't even make sense.
All-in-all, though, the language was quite nice and I find I enjoy James's style. Enough so that one day I may well pick up one of his longer works. There were perhaps a few too many long monologues inside the head of the narrator of The Turn of the Screw. Wait, I don't remember -- were these the most beautiful/wonderful/angelic children the governess had ever encountered? I don't know, she's only said so about 50 times. Maybe if she said it a 51st, I'd be convinced.
Other than the repetition, though, I thought the suspense built well in both novellas. I actually think there probably would've been enough material for a full-length book with The Turn of the Screw; I am not so satisfied with the ending (the kid dies? why?). At least, the premise is interesting and undoubtedly original for the time, though perhaps not so much now (kids, ghosts, horror movies, blah).
Side note: I probably shouldn't have been picturing Quint looking like Groundskeeper Willie (in nicer clothes), but, well, I couldn't help it. Not sure what brought that association on (maybe it was the red hair?), but once it came to me, it never went away.
There's no point in reviewing classics like this. Although there are only eight reviews on Amazon for this particular edition. I'm sure that if you looked through all the editions, you'd come up with dozens more, if not hundreds or even a thousand. At least this book doesn't suffer from the "class assignment" problem; what I mean is that instead of doing book reports, some teachers seem to assign writing Amazon reviews. So you end up with a bunch of drivel from high school students ("this book was too hard because it had big words in it" and crap like that).
But getting back to what this project can help me with, with respect to the fantasy genre. Once again, I've picked something with supernatural elements (at least in The Turn of the Screw, though it could be argued the governess was crazy). But James is pretty solid at building suspense in both of these novellas, and at creating protagonists/narrators with whom the reader can identify, but who have flaws (e.g. breaking in and trying to steal the papers, moving into the mansion with false pretenses, going a bit crazy, etc.). So from a story construction and character perspective, I think there's a lot to learn. And, unlike last month's book (Foucault's Pendulum), I actually got through these quickly and didn't feel like I needed some kind of advanced degree to understand all the references. (Actually, there were a lot of endnotes in my edition, informing me about things that I had already known or figured out through context -- for example, that "making love" didn't mean actual intercourse at the time these novellas were written.)
Anyway, I'm pleased for keeping this project up for six months so far, and that I finally picked something that didn't depress the hell out of me. But it's back to the fantasy now, I've got a couple by Juliet McKenna that I'm going to read and review next.