Author: Ruth Ware
Star Rating: 4/5
From within prison walls, perhaps its best to reminisce of happier times. Especially if the case against you is a strong one. You probably aren't leaving any time soon. Sit back and try to think of better days.
...Who are you writing?
Dear Mr. Wrexham,
I know you don't know me but please, please, please you have to help me
After Rowan Caine took on the role of live-in nanny for the Elincourt's, things quickly went downhill. Mysterious staff, talk of ghosts, the odd behavior of the children, and the constant smart-house surveillance is enough to turn anyone's head. However, there is far more going on than even Rowan thinks.
The best way to start an argument in a room full of scholars is to bring up Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This timeless classic follows a governess who takes on two mysterious wards at an even more mysterious mansion. Throughout the book, the reader is faced with trying to unravel what is really happening. In the scholarly world, there are two main school of thought: Ghost vs Governess. That is to say, is the governess crazy/unreliable, or is she experiencing a true haunting?
After In a Dark Dark Wood, my only Ruth Ware experience, I wasn't keen on giving her books another try. However, once I learned she had penned a retelling of one of my favorite classics, I knew I had to give it a read. Ruth Ware added so much depth to The Turn of the Screw and created a unique and thrilling tale. The writing here is exponentially better than In a Dark Dark Wood, the characters are far more alive, and it's all around a more enjoyable experience.
Ware expanded the Ghost vs Governess argument in this retelling. Sure, there are some very mysterious and potentially ghostly activities. There is creaking on the floorboards at night and odd shadows outside the windows. The narrator is writing a lawyer from her prison cell to tell this story. Maybe she's saying whatever she thinks will get her out. However, this story also has the very odd appearances of the grounds staff. The children have extremely frightening behavior. Above all, every square inch of the house is wired and monitored with the "Happy" smart house system.
I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how well Ware handled so many moving parts. Each of the four children had distinctly different personalities, something that is difficult to write in such young characters. Though it's obvious the author has a crystal clear understanding of the characters, she only lets on to as much as the reader needs to keep wanting to guess. Equally important, the reader is questioning the narrator right from the start but can never make a definite verdict on her reliability. That must be a difficult balance as a writer. I also found the setting to be beautifully designed. I could almost draw out a floor plan of the house and can vividly picture the furniture layouts.
As interesting as the smart house was, perhaps Ware spent a little too much time describing it to the reader. As impressive as the design was, not all readers want to spend 50+ pages touring a home. I feel the atmosphere could have been conveyed just as effectively in half the time, beautiful as it was. Perhaps Ware did this so to build anticipation and suspense? I'm not sure that was the best method, however.
The house tour wasn't the only instance of the book dragging. The real plot didn't begin until halfway through, it seemed. I will admit, the beginning exposition was a bit important in order to introduce the characters and moving pieces, but again I felt it could have been shortened. Be that irritant as it may, the suspense and enjoyment I experienced once the plot did pick up, managed to earn the book 4 stars. The pacing was slightly frustrating all the same.
Overall, I certainly enjoyed this one. I loved comparing it to a favorite, while enjoying a fresh and unique story all the same. I'm grateful Ware redeemed herself in my mind so effectively, and will be picking up The Death of Mrs. Westaway soon!