The Turn of the Key Discussion Journal

Early responses to The Turn of the Key were generally favorable. Here are some excerpts:

  • “Loved the book. However, the end made me feel as though I missed something. It was as if the required number of words had been written so THE END.”  (KP)
  • “It was a highly suspenseful book! I didn’t start reading it until a few days ago, but once I did, I had a hard time putting it down. The writing was good and kept the interest high.” (MM)
  • “Do not know if it was because of listening to the story rather than reading, but I found the whining, begging letter from Rowan rather annoying. Not very far into the story my reaction was: never mind all these details – just get to the point.” (RM)
  • “Really enjoyed this book. Easy read. Enjoyed the format of storyteller writing letter to lawyer and reciting the plot. Didn’t seem as “deep” as many of our books but an interesting read.” (CH)
  • “I liked the suspense and the way that the old Henry James story is re-set in a way I can relate to. . . .The obvious first dislike is the ambiguous ending. Whenever I encounter a book with this kind of ambiguity, I picture the author hunched over a keyboard, evilly chuckling: ‘They won’t get it. HA! They’ll never get it. I’m too smart for them.” (CB)

I chose the Ruth Ware thriller as a break from our more challenging award-winning reads; plus, we started it in October and an updated take on Henry James’ classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, fit the season.

JT and CB read The Turn of the Screw, so they shared how difficult it had been to read, with long, paragraph-length sentences and an uncertain ending. Henry James’ story has been studied and taught for over a century now, so it has stood the test of time.  What about The Turn of the Key? – from our responses, unlikely!

We only directly discussed the book for half an hour, and we spent much of that time punching holes in the story.  As with our early responses, we were disappointed in the ending. KC thought it was an “insult to the reader.” We didn’t believe Rachel would have gone to jail because a five-year old couldn’t have kept the secret and Ellie wouldn’t have been in trouble.

SO could not believe that an eight-year old would be capable of the nightly haunting, let alone surviving the poison garden. She was particularly disturbed by the garden. JK said it reminded him of a spooky, creepy take on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett. KC and CB both got tired of the detailed descriptions of the house. JK couldn’t see Rachel as a good nanny when she would leave the children to go off with Jack. DC wondered how the mother could allow such young children to play alone around a pond.

I may have mixed up who said what because our discussion this month was back and forth, much like it used to be. Why would Rachel write such a long story if she wanted to get a lawyer? That made her unreliable. Why cheat to get the position? Bill was a Harvey Weinstein type. The author is playing a trick by withholding information.

Despite the magnitude of disbelief, most everyone liked the book! Check out the comments for emailed response details and send an email if you’d like to add something!

In past years, when we have met in the theater, the shadowy stage and empty seats lent a provocative atmosphere that should have been perfect for discussing a ghost story, but instead, the darkness mixed with spotlights seemed awkward and emphasized the mask-wearing social distance that is necessary as we face our own on-going horror story.

We met the night before Veteran’s Day, on the anniversary of World War I’s armistice day, honoring those who have served our country through war and peace and everything in between. Thank you to all who have served and those who are still serving!

Other works discussed:

  • The City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019 — recommended for upcoming selection)
  • Endurance by Scott Kelly (2017 – recommended for upcoming selection)
  • The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnet
  • The Turn of the Screw  (1898) by Henry James
  • The Warmth of Other Suns (2011) by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Beecham House (DVD) (2019 – TV series by Gurinder Chadha)
  • Ted Lasso (2020 – Apple TV/not yet available on DVD or through the library)