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April 20, 2015

Just Read || A Jealous Ghost by AN Wilson

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I can certainly attribute my love of the classics to Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw', which I read long before I started to study literature but which is still one of my favourite novellas. A.N. Wilson's A Jealous Ghost was meant to be on my bookshelf and reading list simply because of that fact and I enjoyed the read not only because I am a Turn fangirl and a ghost story lover, but also because I am a literature student.

Wilson's novel is about Sallie Declan, who is a little too obsessed over James' book. This obsessiveness is the first hint that all is not well with Sallie and we are thrown deep into her psychology as she suddenly believes herself to be living the tale of The Turn of the Screw.

At first, we can sympathise with her - a lonely girl who has no one to turn to in London, who felt spurned by her family and study mates in America and who is struggling with her PHd thesis. Following a suggestion by a passing acquaintance, she decides to take a bit of a break from her studies and undertake some nanny work. Charles Masters, his children, and his home become the scene for her own inevitably horrifying narrative as Wilson uses the story to comment on 'The Turn of the Screw's own dependence on the experiences of the governess to determine the truth of the story.

'A Jealous Ghost' serves as a metanarrative for 'The Turn of the Screw'. While one does not have to have read the novella to understand the premise of the classic - as Sallie's musings about the book cover most of that ground - it is those very musings that add an intertextual richness to both books. While James' narrator is taken to be honest and truthful, Wilson's Sallie questions whether Turn's governess' tale was reality at all, while Wilson casts Sallie's reality as something to question right off the bat.

Meanwhile, Sallie's ironic questioning of James' narrator's truthfulness reveals her own flaws in not questioning her own reality, particularly since she is aware of her psychological issues.

'A Jealous Ghost' is also takes a look at mental illness in a way, because Sallie is aware that she has issues. She was taking medication for them in London, but we have no way of knowing whether she continued to do so while she was at Staverton. The evidence that reality was blurred for her was in her constant substitutions of the names of James' characters with those in her story, referring to the estate as 'Bly' instead, calling Frances 'Flora', and Michael 'Miles'. In this way the novel questions the experience of reality and whether or not Sallie really was 'responsible' for the novel's conclusion.

The novel's name is also a wonderful play on one of the themes of the book: jealousy. Throughout the novel, Sallie's jealousy of people and her belief that others are jealous of her is the driving force behind her actions - it is the 'jealous ghost' that has taken control.

I really enjoyed this novel, as you can see. I finished it in only three days and found it compelling reading, perhaps more so because of my fangirl status. I quite feel like reading James' novel again. :)