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)

3 thoughts on “The Turn of the Key Discussion Journal

  1. Full response from MM: 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.

    I liked Rachel and was glad she didn’t hold back when describing the way she felt and the things she said and did in her long letter to Mr. Wrexham. She was far from being a perfect nanny, but with all the crazy things she had to cope with while living in that house, it was understandable. That, and her own terrible, sad years growing up.

    The kids were all messed up, feeling abandoned and figuring out that their father was committing adultery with all the previous nannies. Their fear and concern for their mother was disguised as anger and hatred. If they could get rid of the nannies, all the horribleness would stay at bay.

    I thought it was remarkable that Rachel saw herself in each child at various stages in her own life, as she was never able to please her own mother and had to experience the death of her father at an early age. That and the fact that she knew they were her sisters is what kept her from leaving.

    The ending was a surprise to me. I thought the perpetrator was either Jack or Bill. I didn’t think of Maddie or Ellie. The one hint I didn’t pick up on was when Rachel went back to the attic and noticed that the window was too small for an adult to climb through. I might have thought Maddie, but I didn’t.

    The ending didn’t explain what happened to Rachel, as her letter was not delivered to Mr. Wrexham and was only discovered a year and a half later by a construction worker. I feel sure that Rachel did not show the letter of confession Ellie had written to anyone. But then what eventually did happen to her? Hmmm…

    I’ll be glad to read what everyone thinks in your journal. 🙂

    Stay safe, and I hope to rejoin the group sometime in the future.

  2. Full Response from RMP: Really missing meeting in person. Looking forward to the reviews of Turn of the Key. I was able to download from Libby with an audio book version. 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: What information does Mr. Rexin need to have in order to help her. I listened for quite a while before scrolling forward. I lucked out and reached the point of finding out that Mr. Elincourt is the father of Rachel, her real name. Bill Elincourt left her mom when she was nine months pregnant with Rachel. I listened to enough at the end to find out that the crime for which she is accused, the murder of Maddie, was actually committed by Ellie, a sibling of Maddie.

    I was curious about the story, Henry James’ Turn of The Screw. I downloaded a sample of Turn of the Screw to my Nook. Read the sample. Did not purchase or read the complete story. But found that there have been several films produced, based on Turn of the Screw, Including a Netflix series; The Haunting of Bly Manor. Would like to be able to see the Deborah Kerr 1961 film version, The Innocents.

    Hello to everyone. And thank you for keeping our group going, even if not all together at this time.

  3. Full response from CB:
    I liked the book. It is good, but not perfect. Let me first tell you what I liked about it. I liked the Rachel/Rowan character, and I was sure from the very beginning that she did not kill the girl. She had a lot of courage. I liked the suspense, and the way that the old Henry James story is re-set in a way I can relate to.

    Now, for what I didn’t like. 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.”

    I have analyzed the possible endings. They include the following: (1) Rachel serves out her life sentence, getting time off for good behavior, emerging from prison as a middle-aged woman, pale and dried up. Eventually, she becomes a writer of mysteries, having the nearly unique [look up Anne Perry] advantage of her past. (2) Rachel commits suicide in prison or is killed by prisoners. (3) The attorney receives the letters, and does his legal stuff, whereupon Rachel is released and Ellie receives intensive counseling. All is not well, however, as Rachel still encounters suspicion everywhere she goes. In the end, she changes her name, emigrates to New Zealand, and marries the owner of a vineyard.

    There are other minor things I didn’t like. The “happy” automated house is just plain creepy. The handyman is too good to be true. Instead of being handsome, bare-chested, compassionate, and good in bed, he should have been an elderly, cranky, semi-hermit.

    I guess that’s enough. Thank you for selecting this. Again, I really wish I could be there for the discussion but it is not to be, yet.

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