Six Degrees of Separation: The Turn of the Screw

My favourite monthly tag, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest,  Six Degrees of Separation picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

Links in the titles will take you to my reviews where they exist. This month our starting book is:

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I’ve long owned a copy of this 1898 novella, but never read it. However, one of the film adaptations of it gave me nightmares for years – I can remember it being uni hols, and being at home on a bright, sunny, winter’s day, watching The Innocents on TV by myself – and it truly got to me. The 1961 film stars Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, the governess disturbed by ghosts and the children she is looking after, it also featured Peter Wyngarde and Michael Redgrave and child actor Martin Stevens was Miles, who had already scared us in Village of the Damned (1960) adapted from John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos. Truman Capote doctored the original film script of The Innocents making it much darker apparently, and John Mortimer added scenes, so it has that potential to scare as you can tell. No film since has made me jump in quite the same way when faces appear in windows and the like! Another film adapted from a novel, that scared me stiff was:

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Mia Farrow was so perfect, even if the film wasn’t brilliant, apart from the ending which has that so scary ending! I’m told that the book is much, much better with an increasing sense of foreboding and I do have a copy on my shelves. Talking of a sense of foreboding takes me to:

Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

This 1958 novel is my favourite children’s book ever.

Marianne is confined to bed with an illness that will take several months to recuperate from. She starts to draw to pass the time, using an old pencil she found in her Grannie’s workbox.  She draws a house with a garden and a fence around it. That night, she dreams and she is at the house she drew. She adds more details each night, including a boy in the house, and those nasty stones with eyes and they still creep me out today! They threaten the house so well.

Another even more scary novel with young protagonists is:

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I recommend this Swedish novel to anyone for its depiction of a child vampire. Let the Right One In is something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl.

More contemporary creepiness of a different kind is:

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

To divert from the supernatural for a mo, I See You is a psychological thriller about being stalked, which has an extremely high creep factor indeed. Clever, twisty and deeply dark. It was truly unputdownable, and another unputdownable and scary book is:

Daughters unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

Published as YA, this novel was really disturbing. Narrated by a sixteen year old with a secret and set in pioneer times, her family relocates to an abandoned house on the prairies, only to discover that it was abandoned for a reason. As far away from Laura Ingalls Wilder as you could get, I loved this debut novel with its wonderful narrator. And finally that brings me to one of the masters of unsettling tales:

Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman

This collection of eight short stories from the 1970s is as soaked in drama as the book before was steeped in blood. Aickman was a master of weird (he liked the word ‘strange’ to describe his work) and his strength was in taking an ordinary situation then stressing his characters just enough to induce full-blown paranoia in his innocent narrators. All of the stories are narrated in the first person by their main character, recounting their awful experiences. Most of the horror is all in the mind; not for him the excesses of the most gory of slasher novels … just the odd touches. There’s no room in the short story format for extended battles against demons, the undead and the like. You either beguile the reader before hitting them with the strangeness big-time, or immerse them in atmosphere from the start.  Likewise, there are two types of endings: relief, whether the protagonist perishes or gets away or, more likely – a continued unease. Aickman can do all of these.

So to celebrate the start of October in which my mind always turns to some darker reading, my six degrees have taken us all around the supernatural world of ghosts, vampires and demons, with detours into the paranoia of real life.

Where will your six degrees take you?

23 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: The Turn of the Screw

  1. Margaret says:

    Oh, some really scary books! The only one I’ve read, apart from The Turn of the Screw, is I See You. I don’t think I could bear to watch Rosemary’s Baby, or The Innocents either. I’m a wimp at watching horror films, although I can read some horror stories, providing they’re not full of gore or torture scenes.

  2. A Life in Books says:

    This is a chain to keep you awake at night, Annabel! I still remember those shimmering images across the lake in The Innocents. I never summoned the courage to see Rosemary’s Baby.

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    You kept the tone very dark this month! I’ve not read any of your picks bar the James itself, but I’ve been reading a lot more fantasy and horror than usual recently to get ready for some R.I.P. posts.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m ‘resurrecting’ my old tag ‘Season of the Living Dead’ instead of RIP. Love reading dark books at this at this time of year

  4. Kate W says:

    I watched Rosemary’s Baby when I was far too young. I can’t remember anything about the story except that I was scared witless. Don’t think I could read it (or rewatch it, although on the rare occasion when I have rewatched films that scared me, I think they don’t look for frightening through a 2020 lens – I guess the suspense and special effects are a little clunky now).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Rosemary’s baby is all psychological rather than special effects if I remember rightly – but like you it was so long ago that I saw it! I wonder if it’s available to watch anywhere – might go searching for it (or at least read the book…

  5. Cathy746books says:

    I love the movie of Rosemarys Baby but the book is way better. On the other hand, I thinknthe Swedish adaptation of Let the Right One In is better than the book!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I couldn’t choose between the book and Swedish film for Let the Right One In – but that film was better than the US version.

  6. Jen G. (Introverted Reader) says:

    I kept my chain scary for Halloween as well! I haven’t actually read any of your choices though. I can read most horror with no problem but demons and exorcisms are too much for me; I think that knocks Rosemary’s Baby right out of the picture. I can’t watch horror movies at all! I’ve looked for Let the Right One In (book) for years but haven’t found a library that has it. I need to just give up and order a copy. The others sound great too so I’ll have to look for them. I love to read horror and Gothic novels in October but always seem to get stuck with Stephen King and Joe Hill. I enjoy their work but I’d like to branch out a little. Great list!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ll just warn you that Let the Right One In is not for the faint-hearted, but it is vampires not demons!

      • Jen G. (Introverted Reader) says:

        Vampires are a go! I actually just checked and one of the libraries I’ve gained access to in my travels over the past couple of years has this. Now if I could just finish these two nonfiction bricks I’ve got going on….

  7. Constance says:

    Marianne Dreams is a favorite of mine! I was amazed several years ago when a British friend told me there was a sequel and found it for me (she is barely recognizable as the same girl but I still liked it). Did not know there had been a TV adaptation.

    I also liked I See You (five starts) although I agree with you how creepy it is – I semi-guessed what was going to happen but only about a page before it happened!

    Here is my chain:

  8. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    This was an awesome chain! I loved it! I’ve never read Rosemary’s Baby. The idea alone creeps me out completely! Let the right one in can be good… And I see you is right up my alley.

    I went a similar path as you, just stuck with the ghosts… 6 Degrees of Separation – The Ghost Edition

    Have a wonderful Ghostober.

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