I’ve never read anything by Ruth Ware before. If I’m being honest, the only reason that I bought this book was because of the edition of the book I found. The page edges had keys on it and I couldn’t resist. I love a sprayed or illustrated edge. I guess it also intrigued me that the title was clearly creating a connection between this book and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. A good ghost story is just the thing to be reading on cold October nights so I decided to give it a go. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t expect much from this book. I’ve read many psychological crime thrillers over the years and each one has been painfully obvious. Call me egotistical if you will but I went into this book assuming that I would have it all figured out by the end of the first chapter. I blame growing up on Agatha Christie novels and adaptations. I know I’d actually be rubbish at solving a crime but, in my head, I’m a younger Jane Marple.
First off, I want to put it on record that I’m sick of novelists using letters as a framing narrative. It very rarely adds anything to the story and, rather than make it more realistic, just pushes me further out of the book. It’s an unoriginal and lazy writing technique and The Turn of the Key certainly did nothing to change my opinion. Especially as the letter doesn’t even feel real. We are introduced to the events of the novel through the desperate letter written by a nanny accused of killing a child to a lawyer. She is adamant that, despite all of the evidence against her, she is innocent. So she sets about telling her story from start to finish. Which is insane when you really think about it. Thankfully, she remembers to leave all of the juicy reveals a secret until the proper dramatic moment.
Rowan Caine stumbles across the job of a lifetime as a live-in nanny staying with a rich family in Scotland. She will be paid a phenomenal amount of money to look after 4 children and gets the luxury of staying in a fully “smart” home. Everything is automated and controlled through an app. But there is a dark history surrounding Heatherbrae house. When Rowan starts being kept awake by mysterious noises and unexplained goings-on, she starts to believe that maybe there are supernatural forces working against her. Something that is amplified by the fact that Rowan is keeping many secrets of her own. But what does her past have to do with her current situation?
There are a lot of stupid red herrings in this book like poison gardens, ghosts, and dead daughters but they are all dealt with in such a heavy-handed way. Rather than drawing me away from the truth, it was pretty obvious that these were just a waste of time. Ware put so much energy into turning everything into a mystery that, suddenly, nothing was a mystery anymore. Take Jack, the handsome handyman. Rowan becomes so paranoid that she starts imagining that he is up to no good. Yet, her thought process is so outlandish and nonsensical that it never feels like a viable option. In fact, the only viable option is very clear quite early on and the fact that it never enters the narrator’s head is an even clearer indication that it’s true.
I get that Ware wanted to try and create a modern ghost story but it never quite works. The setting of the modern house is never utilised to its full potential and the ghost element never reaches terrifying levels. This isn’t a book that will keep anyone up at night and, if the main character had any sense of logic, would have been worked out after the first few chapters. This book was built up to be an epic ghost story thanks to it’s reference to Henry James. However, the end result is just a little facile and superficial. There are plenty of tropes chucked in for good measure but there is no depth to them.
The Turn of the Key isn’t a terrible novel and it was certainly an easy read. I stormed through it but I have to say that my attention was waning towards the end. The return of the household’s moody teenager towards the end really does nothing for the story and just slows the pace even further. This story is at its most interesting in the early stages. There is a hint that the book is going down a different path but, unfortunately, it just goes down the well-trodden path. The modern house is never the important aspect that the set-up suggests. It’s just another distraction that doesn’t go anywhere in the end. The final pay-off really isn’t worth it. This is not the worst book I’ll ever read but would I recommend it? Only if you were looking for a fairly bland and easily forgettable book.