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Publisher's Summary

Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Emmy winner Emma Thompson lends her immense talent and experienced voice to Henry James' Gothic ghost tale, The Turn of the Screw.

When a governess is hired to care for two children at a British country estate, she begins to sense an otherworldly presence around the grounds. Are they really ghosts she's seeing? Or is something far more sinister at work?

Having performed in films based on some of the greatest works in literature - including Sense and Sensibility, Howards End, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry V - Thompson is no stranger to the classics, and she lends a graceful eloquence to this moody, macabre story. Joined by listener favorite Richard Armitage, who performs the prologue, Thompson reinvigorates this psychological thriller of life, death, evil, and the unknown.

Public Domain (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"[Narrator] Emma Thompson gives the performance we expect from an Oscar winner. Most listeners don't think of Henry James as a passionate writer, but passion is there, and Thompson brings it out - and adds some of her own.... Thompson's reading will teach new listeners how to read the text - and perhaps James in general - and to understand why he's considered a genius." ( AudioFile)

Featured Article: What Is Gothic Fiction? A Genre Explainer


Some of the most popular and enduring novels and short stories are works of Gothic fiction, including Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. These creepy, creaky literary classics have the power to transport listeners to foggy moors and crumbling estates, where wolves howl in the night and shadows lurk in the hallways. But Gothic fiction is more than just cobwebs and candelabras.

What listeners say about The Turn of the Screw

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Ambiguity, Precisely Rendered

Thirty-some odd years ago, at the prompting—or insistence—of a girlfriend, I tackled Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. Three decades later, I still retain the sense of hopelessness as I slogged from one vast paragraph of convoluted inner meditation to another. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe what I remember as convolution was really excruciating precision--an exactness I lacked the patience to appreciate.

Fast forward 30 years. At the prompting of my wife (no, not the same woman), I have come to love Jane Austen—to scoff derisively at those who claim, “nothing happens” in her novels. I’ve never gone back to try Portrait again. But when Audible put The Turn of the Screw up for sale last October I thought it was time to give James another go. After all, I'm much older and maybe even a little wiser now. Or at least more patient.

This time the Baroque sentence structures made perfect sense; that complexity, so inextricably a part of the story being told, illuminates—even demonstrates—the perplexities of that story. Is the governess mad? Is she seeing things? Is she sane and the threat is real? Do the children commune with evil spirits, or has our narrator been at the Mysteries of Udolfo again?

Then there are all the dark things hinted at but never squarely addressed--unspeakable words and acts that are never spoken of. This, too, is another brilliant gambit: ghosts are hard to make believable--the less an author says the more the reader imagines.

Emma Thompson does it all more than justice, navigating every grammatical and dramatic switchback, getting each voice of her intimate cast just right.

Given my limited acquaintance with James, I was stunned that he was able to create so much authentic suspense. I was even more surprised to learn that this was just his most famous ghost story. He liked writing them, which somehow made this solid literary monument of a man more human.

A cursory Internet search made me aware of the critical fisticuffs that this story has been generating ever since its first appearance in 1898. The questions raised above are but the tip of that particular iceberg. For myself, I’d rather not have every question answered. Like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the next century, James knew the tidy ending is not only “unrealistic”, but slackens suspense. The wisest statement I found on the matter comes from Brad Leithauser, a poet I’ve admired for years:

“All such attempts to 'solve' the book, however admiringly tendered, unwittingly work toward its diminution [; its] profoundest pleasure lies in the beautifully fussed over way in which James refuses to come down on either side... the book becomes a modest monument to the bold pursuit of ambiguity.”

59 people found this helpful

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Great, but Mightn't be the Best on Audible

I really, really love "The Turn of the Screw," so this is my third version from Audible, and it's hard to judge as is, as opposed to judging in comparison to the other two that I have.
Let's take as is:
Emma Thompson is fabulous, really brings her acting chops to play, and what can you say? The woman is a powerhouse!
But, and this is where you'll have to judge for yourself, she reads as an older woman. I realize that the story is of an older woman looking back, so I understand why this might be appropriate for the book, but the character at the time is a very, very young woman. She is at a loss, wondering, at times she's near out of her mind, so that is why I prefer the Penelope Rawlins version. Because, even though Ms. Thompson delivers a masterful narrative, the dialogue, the interactions sometimes ring false with her more mature tones, with her poise. The character lacks poise at that age, so it's quite odd to hear such control.
Further, one of the joys of the story is that you never quite know what's real--it's up to the reader to decide for him or herself what is doing the haunting: Evil? or the governess as the conduit, the interpreter of what she "sees." If you lean one way or the other, the end is such that, chances are, you'll still wind up leaning that way. It's every man for himself and I know of two no such people who wind up in entire agreement about what exactly is determining the story here. And that's a delight! It makes for wonderful discussions afterward.
But Ms. Thompson's delivery kind of makes it seem as though there actually is only one way of seeing the whole story, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. The dedication of the governess to seeing one end comes off as rather harsh, strident, monstrous even--it doesn't leave much room for questioning. ...bummer...
Still, gotta love it! A governess overly beguiled and bewitched. Ghosts. Perhaps. Young souls hanging in the balance. How could the stakes be higher?
Great listen, beautiful language, compelling plot, mesmerizing characters.
And if you've gotten the kindle version, come back and choose the Audible versions you'd like!
For more reviews, of all genres, check out AudiobookAccomplice

209 people found this helpful

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Glad it's only 4hrs long

"It's Henry James!!! I cannot just turn it off!" - that's how I made myself to finish listening to this book. Basically, if dead people, unreliable narrators, children, and slow exquisite writing is your thing, go for it. The narration by Emma Thompson was purely exquisite. I do not know if I would have been able to finish listening to the book, be it read by anyone else.

7 people found this helpful

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Wanted to Love it

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I was somewhat disappointed with this selection. I think I may have had too high an expectation. Emma Thompson, Gothic story, Henry James how could it not be fantastic? Something was just not quite right, still not sure what

Would you recommend The Turn of the Screw to your friends? Why or why not?

No, probably not. It was not very compelling. I listen to a lot of audiobooks and one of my standards is how well it holds my attention and I had to actively listen for this one to keep me engaged.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

I think Emma Thompson's narration was an interpretation and unfortunately it missed the mark. At times it was too breathy and frantic, if trying to convey a sense of urgency the story should have conveyed without this added affectation. Other times it bordered on the pedantic, which is a shame because prior to this I would have thought I would have enjoyed Emma Thompson reading the phone book.

Could you see The Turn of the Screw being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

In the right hands it could be however this story is very much a psychological journey. Are the events of the story really happening or is this the overwrought imagination of an impressionable young woman?

Any additional comments?

I have found the narration of famous actors and actresses to be somewhat uneven. This would be an example of a miss, Kate Winslett and Mathilda would be an out of the park homerun. I really think I prefer the work of narrators who primarily do voice work, they enhance the story, the written word without eclipsing it.

29 people found this helpful

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Great Narration But...

I bought this recording because Emma Thompson is the narrator. She is terrific breathing as much life into this story as possible. However Henry James' work has not aged well. While it may have been scary in its time, in an age that has brought us The Exorcist and The Shining, the idea of two young children being influenced by evil has become a cliché. The plot is overly dramatic and predictable. The best thing that I can say about Turn of The Screw (besides the fantastic narration) is that it is short.

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  • m
  • 07-06-17

Excellent story; disappointing performance

Would you try another book from Henry James and/or Emma Thompson and Richard Armitage - introduction ?

Love this story. And Emma Thompson. Who would think that her reading would be such a let-down?! I would not recommend it.

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Scary but ambiguous

I undertook this one with trepidation. Ghost stories terrify me: I had to make sure to schedule my listens early enough in the day to get over it before the sun went down.

Fortunately, as other reviewers have noted, there's enough ambiguity in the story to keep it from being as terrifying as it could have been. It's bad enough. Ghostly, terrible figures move through this narrative, but the real fear is generated by the reactions of the characters to what they're seeing, or think they're seeing, and most of all the reactions of the narrator, the governess brought to life here by Emma Thompson.

I'm puzzled by some of the comments about her performance. It's extremely passionate and borders at times on the hysterical — as you would expect from someone who has seen a ghost. But the narrator herself is a major source of the ambiguity, and I don't see where Thompson's choices as a performer weighted the scales toward one interpretation or another. This has so far been my only encounter with the story, so I'm coming to it with no preconceptions. And while I found the audiobook emotionally compelling and satisfying, I still have no preconceptions (or postconceptions, for that matter) about what any of it actually adds up to.

I'm old enough to remember the old Dark Shadows soap opera when that first came on in the 60s, and it was interesting to see where it all got started. As ominous a presence as he seemed at the time, Quentin Collins is no match for Peter Quint.

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What?

What would have made The Turn of the Screw better?

I never figured out what the story was supposed to be about.

Has The Turn of the Screw turned you off from other books in this genre?

Not so much the genre as the author.

Any additional comments?

I backed up and relistened and relistened, but I could never figure this book out with the assumptions and insinuations that I guessed were supposed to be made.

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Young Governess; Big Lonely House:

Equals trouble! It happens every time.

"The Turn of the Screw" is an enigmatic classic of horror (or is it madness? Psychology?) It's been put on film and has a number of interpretations available on Audible. Having read and studied the print copy and having seen and heard it in several incarnations, I still happily went for this version.

So, how does Emma Thompson rate among "Turn of the Screw" narrators? I'd normally follow her anywhere, and this is a spectacular performance. The ominous atmosphere and rising suspense are wonderfully conveyed, and it's a fast-moving and satisfying listen. I do believe that one particular slant on the tale's motivations is highly favored here - one that can be more frighteningly ambiguous in reading the book.

Is it necessarily a bad thing to say that anyone who has heard Thompson's narration of "The Turn of the Screw" will find it difficult to see it any other way? I don't think so, but perhaps a newcomer to James' work should read this short book in print form first (preferably alone in a big, old house on a dark, stormy night!)

But Emma Thompson is awfully good - as, by the way, is Richard Armitage in his brief contribution.

30 people found this helpful

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What a treat!

Would you listen to The Turn of the Screw again? Why?

I would listen to this book again for the language alone. Henry James' phrasing is delicious.

What did you like best about this story?

Emma Thompson's performance was brilliant.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Max Mitchell
  • 09-29-18

A Strange Little Novel

I would advise you not to read this if you're looking for a "scary" horror novel. The text far more falls into the wheelhouse of literary fiction. Read as a work of literary fiction, however, it's good - not great, not outstanding, but a solid read.

The fact that the reputation of the book precedes it actually acts to the detriment of the reading experience: don't go into this expecting a masterpiece. It's a decent and blessedly short novel - and one probably worth ticking off the bucket list - but it's not going to blow you away.

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  • bookylady
  • 03-23-16

A Classic Ghost Story But I'm Still None The Wiser

Any additional comments?

I have been confused by The Turn of The Screw for Years. Having read and seen several TV/film versions of this classic, gothic tale of ghosts and evil spirits I have never been able to decide whether the main protagonist (the governess) was insane, a hysteric or a young woman who was completely up against it ,trying to cope with two vulnerable children in a position of overarching responsibility that was foisted on her by an absent and irresponsible employer. So I decided to try listening to the story to see if I could pick up any clues that would help me come to a conclusion.
The story started really well with an authoratative performance from Richard Armitage in the prologue. But the bulk of the story, narrated very ably by Emma Thompson, just didn't 'do it' for me. I don't know why. I think Emma Thompson was perhaps miscast. The voice was a bit too mature and measured I think. The chilling fear and sense of dread and horror that Henry James sought to express in the narrative just didn't come across.
I'm still none the wiser about the outcome or whether the governess imagined it all. But perhaps that was James' intention? Leave them confused and wanting more? Who knows but perhaps someone could explain it all to me!

12 people found this helpful

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  • Clavs
  • 12-19-18

Gothic and Spooky excellently performed.

If anybody is in any doubt of Emma Thompson extraordinary skill as a performer, send them this audiobook.

I was utterly gripped by this gothic classic.

Governess alone in a big old house? Tick.

Suspicious circumstances of her employment? Tick.

Creepy children and mysterious apparitions? Tick.

I highly recommend.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Peter
  • 08-09-16

Not a ghost story

What did you like most about The Turn of the Screw?

This book is an excellent way of experiencing the inner life of a person with severe mental problems

Who was your favorite character and why?

The present governess- the sole source of the hallucinations. She is delicate, unsure of herself, anxious and constantly alert for warped interpretations of the behaviour and words of others, in particular, the two children; left in charge with no help available. A sure setting for trouble.

What does Emma Thompson and Richard Armitage - introduction bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Brilliant. Emma's voice suggests the complexity of the tortured mind. The American pronunciation of enquiry jarred somewhat.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

All is well with the governess left in charge....until the ghosts start to appear.

Any additional comments?

The title, 'Turn of the Screw,' epitomises the gradual increase in pressure that this lady experiences. Dramatizations turn this tale into a ghost story. It really is a page from a book on psychiatry fleshed out. 'For example' 'what to look for' the book is saying. Henry James had a brother William James, the famous psychologist and philosopher. Surely, they would have discussed the incidents that are described to make sure that they were true to life. The whole book is seen through the eyes of the governess. Only she sees Peter Quint and Miss Jessell. In her position alone with children, this governess is dangerous.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Duncan Barrett
  • 01-11-19

Great production

This is a shortish book but it’s one of the greats, and Emma Thompson provides a stellar performance. Highly recommended.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ms T
  • 02-13-18

Ghostly

I read this novella a couple of years ago and couldn’t resist buying this audiobook which is narrated by the wonderful Emma Thompson. As I remembered, this is a really spooky story. James’ language is weaving and complicated and in places, ambiguous. Is this actually a ghost story or is there something else...?

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-18-21

could not follow

Even though I have seen the show I could not follow this book. The performance was brilliant but I think the writer had swallowed a thesaurus.
I have listened to 56 books so far and this is regrettably the first one I will not finish.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Words and Chaos
  • 10-27-21

Take a deep breath...

It's just a bit frustrating, honestly. The slightest thing happens to these characters and they fly into prolongued bouts of hysterics. Instead of reacting in a remotely rational fashion and doing something useful, they burst into tears and start howling at how terrible everything is. I don't need Sherlock Holmes, but amateur dramatics doesn't replace personality.

I don't think that was the fault of the performers/readers, either. I think the characters are just written to fly into a meltdown at the slightest provocation. Perhaps that was just the expected response in 1898, but to the modern listener/reader/audience they just look somewhat pathetic and contemptible.

If you don't mind excessively emotional and somewhat incoherent characters, this might work for you. If you're put off by pitiful caterwauling at every inconvenience, then you are advised to look elsewhere.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mariel Simone Edlund
  • 10-15-20

Interesting listen

It was an ineresting listen with a perfect performance <3

A beautiful and strange story that is probably best suited for people who enjoy stories from the eighteen hundreds <3

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-19-18

Difficult language, beautifully read.

I found it quite hard to follow at times because the language is very complex. Unexpected plot though... and Emma Thompson was fabulous as ever.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Naedrax17
  • 12-28-19

Wanted to like it.

Emma Thompson & Richard Armitage did an excellent job of narration. The story itself is very lack luster. Felt like such a missed opportunity, great concept but is missing so much. If had been fleshed out with more explanation of what is actually happening & why, could have been an amazing gothic ghost story.

2 people found this helpful

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  • V. J. Hutchinson
  • 02-14-18

Typical James

The narration was excellent but the author, as always, finished weakly. It is always disappointing when a strong story has no real ending.

2 people found this helpful

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  • LC
  • 07-17-17

Emma Thompson is perfection!

This was my first read/ listen of The Turn of the Screw and Emma Thompson's narration really made the story come to life.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Emperor Duck
  • 02-16-21

Thompson is Electrifying

Enma Thomson's reading of this horror classic is possibly the best reading of a book I've ever had the pleasure to hear. Richard Armitage's narration at the beginning is also malifilous and intoxicating but it is Thompson who is something to behold.

A creepy tale told with flowing, languid prose that had this listener rapt and sighing with both the beauty of Jame's words and the horror of his story as with all the best horror tales this is left largely to your imagination and with that, there is no limit but the one you impose on yourself.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 06-03-22

Classic

Emma Thompson gave an amazing performance. I was enthralled by the dialogue and left deep in contemplation over the events that transpired in this book. Loved the use of an unreliable narrator.

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  • Daryl
  • 04-21-22

An outstanding performance by an iconic actor

I really enjoyed this audiobook of James's novella. Emma Thompson gives a great reading in a very iconic voice, bringing all of the characters to life and adding the emotion required flawlessly. If you have never read this book before then this short audiobook is well worth listening to.

As a book from the late 19th century, it brings out the attitudes of the time. The class divides between The Governess and Mrs Grose, the illiterate assistant housekeeper. Throughout the book, The Governess treats her as one of the "simple folk". This acts as a timely reminder that the history we read and see is generally written about a very thin layer of society.

The interplay between The Governess and MIles, the 10-year-old boy and the oldest of her charges, is also intriguing. You can see the entrenched beliefs over gender roles and the continual playing for affection and the upper hand between the two of them.

There are several subplots running through the book. The child has been cast out of his school for some reason, and she is there to find out why and to fix the situation. The daughter, Flora, whose relationship with The Governess quickly goes downhill, and the ghosts that appear throughout the story.

Ultimately it's an ambiguous book where the reader is the one who makes up their own mind about the story. I really enjoyed this for a number of reasons, and will likely read it again in book form at some point in the future.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-01-21

Disappointed

Emma Thompson did her best with an overdramatised story.
In my view, the ebb and flow was missing, therefore what should have been ghoulish, terrifying encounters lacked impact.
I’ve just finished Portrait of a Lady and the comparison could not be more stark.
I also think perhaps the author struggled with the female voice as narrator, although I am by no means a Henry James expert!

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  • Pete Shields
  • 01-31-21

The monster

Poor little Miles. Such a brave lad and companion. He was taken. We become what we fear most as Oscar Wilde said.

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  • AlbaRoo🦶🏽
  • 02-26-20

overdiscriptive

overdiscriptive to the piont of annoyed, how to enjoy a read when the author has obviously gone out of his way to think up long complicated words , so annoying when there is probably a good listen under there , audio books should not be mental calisthenics! sorry but i found waiting for the story to happen while author displays his vocabulary!
good stock spoiled, not the readers fault she has a very articulate and handled it well

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  • SW TUBBS
  • 02-06-20

Dry Writing

The narration is a real positive and reduces the dryness of some of the passages.