The Aspern Papers

It’s taken me days to write a review on this book – and not because I’ve been busy. I just can’t figure out what to say about it! ……………….. If I MUST, all I can say is that the book strangely led nowhere for me.

In The Aspern Papers Henry James shows the common practice of publishers to invade the private lives of public figures, how the family members or intimate acquaintances react to this invasion and the awkward situation created when a publisher schemes and lies for what he wants.

The narrator of the novella, an unnamed publisher, wants “The Aspern Papers”; papers he is sure that Juliana Bordereau, former lover of the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, must have. He goes prepared to do whatever he must to get those papers and, under false pretences, obtains admission to the house she lives in with her niece Tina. Eventually, he is caught in an awkward position and must decide whether he will be absolutely unscrupulous or if he still has some standards of his own.

This is one of those few times that I loved the development of the story – it had me reading till the last page. The obsession for those unseen papers increases as the story progresses and the reader, along with the publisher, would do anything to just know what they contained. The interaction in the book is namely between the publisher and Tina Bordereau. Having revealed the truth to the niece, he hopes for some help from her. The ending was a shock to say the least. I, like the publisher, was unbelieving. I had invested so much in finding out what the papers were and if he would get them that I felt I had lost something myself. This is why The Aspern Papers felt like it went nowhere – because as far as the poor publisher was concerned, nowhere is where he ended.

The Turn of the Screw

A young governess’ manuscript is read at a gathering in which ghost stories are being told – only this is not the typical ghost story. Hired by an enigmatic man to look after his orphaned nephew and niece, the unnamed governess tells of her journey to the country house Bly. She instantly falls in love with the angelic children Miles and Flora. Nothing could be more perfect. She has a good salary and complete control over the servants. But why all the rules? What is the mystery behind the previous governess’ death? But these questions come much later.

One day, the governess spots an unknown man on the premises. A trespasser she presumes. But on giving the description to the housekeeper, she is never more surprised when the man is identified as Peter Quint – the master’s previous valet who is now dead. This apparently terrifying turn of events is accepted both by the young woman and the housekeeper! It isn’t long before the two make another startling discovery: the children know of the spirits. The governess soon begins seeing Peter Quint and her predecessor Miss Jessel walking about the grounds and the house. The children are interacting with the dead – with an evil too appalling to think of. The real evil is never made clear; it is left to our imagination. The governess guards the children hoping to save their souls. One day things come to a head with tragic consequences.

Critical Analysis
I don’t usually like critically analysing a book, but in some cases it is called for. The Turn of the Screw is a book that has baffled many critics. Many questions remain unanswered to this day: For example, the nature of the evil the children are involved in with the valet and the previous governess is never fully revealed. Then many critics are doubtful as to whether the children were really evil and interacting with spirits; they assume that the governess herself could have been hallucinating as no clear statement is made otherwise. Against this argument is of course the fact that the boy Miles actually asks for Peter Quint before dying. Their is also the letter from Miles’ headmaster indicating bad behaviour – somewhat odd considering his angelic demeanor at Bly.

It has never been proved that Henry James meant The Turn of the Screw to be anything other than the straightforward ghost story most assume it to be. I myself can never get over the odd children. Children are usually portrayed as either good or ‘naughty’ – rarely pure evil. The effect is to say the least horrible! Before I started this blog I had never been in the habit of articulating my impressions about a book. Of course I knew whether I liked it or hated it, but this book lay in between. I didn’t like it – but neither did I hate it. It was eerie and uncomfortable with a depressing atmosphere, but had a strong pull. For those interested in more critical analysis go here.

Book Shopping Mania

I went to an old bookshop the other day and my eye was caught by a whole shelf full of Agatha Christie…let’s be honest, I was looking for something to buy and I found it! I couldn’t decide which of her novels to pick (I wanted to take them ALL), but I chose four – after about debating half an hour with myself. Expect reviews on them soon. They are:

The Sittaford Mystery: As I’ve said before, I’ve read all of Christie’s mystery novels, but some I remember better than others. This particular novel is a complete blank…except I know who the murderer is. It is a new way to read a book for me. I never, and I mean never enjoy knowing before hand the outcome of a novel, but in this case I can remember nothing else; no motive, no method – nothing. It’s just that I know who the murderer is so there is no ‘shocking discovery’ in store for me.

The Pale Horse: It may seem odd to you the disjointed things I remember about these novels, but in The Pale Horse, all I can remember is that it is about a murder-for-hire ring. Nothing else. So it is sort of a first time read for me.

Poirot’s Early Cases: A collection of short stories, not only concerning Poirot’s early cases as the title suggests, but cases from various points in his life.

Death Comes as the End: A favorite Christie of mine. This novel is set in Ancient Egypt. I love everything about this book from the characters to the style of writing.

Then I picked up some other books as well. First time reads:

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer: Another Heyer read is something I find irresistible. I’m going through her novels slowly because when you’re all out you’re all out! Re-reading is fun of course, but nothing compared to opening a book for the first time.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: Just picked up this book because I was in the mood for mystery after Agatha Christie and the back of the cover says ‘The Turn of the Screw is the classic ghost story for which Henry James is best remembered.’
The Aspern Papers by Henry James: The Henry James’ book came as two books in one – something I realized only when I had come home from the book shop. The back cover states that it is ‘a tale of Americans in Europe’. I’m already interested.