I have been dying to read this book. Plain and simple. Now that I have read it, thank goodness, I’m so excited to finally talk about it! I was first introduced to Ruth Ware through BooksandLala as she gave The Death of Mrs Westaway a positive review and put The Turn of the Key on her Best Books of 2019 list which was mirrored by many other Booktubers as well. I’m currently making my way through the audiobook for The Death of Mrs Westaway but I couldn’t wait to read The Turn of the Key so I treated myself with a Christmas voucher. My primary reason for pushing to read this one first is that I adore Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and many of the following reworkings I’ve read. If something is anyway linked to The Turn of the Screw I’m going to read it. Between the consistently positive reviews and connections to a favourite classic, I was impatient to dive in.
This review will contain no spoilers so I’m going to apologise now that some aspects may seem vague. I can’t go into too many details so I’ll do my best with what I know can’t spoil this awesome book for anyone! I’m planning to do a big blog discussion series covering The Turn of the Screw and my favourite reworkings so I’ll be uploading a spoiler-filled discussion as part of that which will cover the same aspects mentioned here in more depth.
When Rowan stumbles across the job advert she’s looking for something else completely. But this opportunity is just too good to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly worthy salary. The picture-perfect family, headed by increasingly successful and busy parents running their own architectural company, offer Rowan Heatherbrae House as her luxurious ‘smart’ new home and she begins to feel she could be around for a while. What she doesn’t know is that the nightmare she’s actually entering will end with a dead child and her in a cell, awaiting trial for murder, desperately pleading for a barrister’s help. She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – certainly not of murder. Which means someone else is.
As I mentioned above, I’ve been listening to The Death of Mrs Westaway on audio so this is the first Ruth Ware I’ve tried reading physically and oh goodness I completely devoured it! In fact, I got through it in less than two days and that very rarely happens with my reading speed and especially when I’m actively taking in all of the details. This was predominately achieved by the writing style and, in turn, the character voices which each read so naturally that I never stopped, cringed at the teenager’s voice and they certainly never blended into one or became indistinguishable. You are reading a letter but the emphasis on this format fluctuates throughout, I believe, to the benefit of both the narrative and reading experience. The opening is a little quirky in playing with that format but eventually, your consciousness of the letter format fades leaving just the correct amount of interjections to draw your attention back naturally.
Rowan is far more relatable and even likeable, to an extent, than I was expecting her to be. She is an unreliable narrator but especially towards the start of her employment you can truly sympathise with her struggles and decisions. Whilst there isn’t a noticeable shift between the two I did feel a significant grounding to Rowan’s descriptions of her early interactions compared to her initial letters and later desperation. It’s very subtle and, as I said, it is also not overt but it certainly aided my reading experience of Rowan’s letters.
The twists. Oh my goodness those twists. Each one comes out of nowhere and they are matched by episodes of creeping suspense and information tidbits that the book feels balanced as a complete mystery thriller. This book truly is a testament both to Ruth Ware’s imagination for creepy settings and her construction of information reveals and twists. The fact that each twist comes out of nowhere could have been a negative point if not for Ruth Ware’s talent for simultaneously giving nothing in the lead-up and everything, leaving it perfectly plausible and possible, following the reveal. Also, do not fear thanks to the unyielding focus on Rowan’s thought process these revelations never feel like an exposition dump. I was also amazed that each new twist upended one of the very few aspects that you weren’t questioning leading you to question literally everything.
There is one twist, which I won’t spoil or even describe, but it will stay with me as it took me completely by surprise and it turns out that there is one tiny hint earlier in the narrative which hinges on one tiny comma. That alone is testament to the craft and construction which lead to this book.
The atmosphere of the house itself and certainly some of the individual events display hints towards other classics such as Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and, my favourite of its kind, Hill’s The Woman in Black. However, Ruth Ware ensures to disrupt your expectations just enough to create a far more original setting as the ‘smart’ aspects of the house effortlessly interact with the older, and more traditional, aspects to create thrilling spikes in fear throughout the text. I was perhaps expecting the house itself, however, to have a little bit more character in itself. This likely comes down to personal reading taste, however, I feel that the character of houses needs to be prioritised when there isn’t another explicit spectral presence, which is the key difference between the Jackson and Hill texts I mentioned to give you an example. I feel that there could have been a little bit more description, interaction or disruption of the house itself and its character throughout to really push its role to the next level. I’ll be perfectly honest, I was very glad that I picked this up after completing my previous job which required me to stay in many different hotels across the country because I love my sleep and I needed it and you don’t get that if you read this book in a fancy/smart appliance location.
Whilst I would say, from a perspective of personal enjoyment, that I loved this book and that it is a favourite I will be the first to admit that I had to knock a star for the ending. My issue isn’t with the ending as a whole. A couple of the layers which add to it are actually very intriguing, haunting and interesting. However, I do feel that everything was far too definitive and I found especially the last literally three pages far too concrete in wrapping everything up. I think that it could have ended without these pages or just without some details and it could have been a far more impactful ending leaving me curious to know those details and get people talking about their theories, as the ending of James’ The Turn of the Screw has done for example. However, the rest of the book more than makes up for these couple of pages and I can’t wait to discuss it and even re-read it seeing what that experience is like.
Overall, I’ve landed on a four-star for Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key for such intricate craftsmanship coming through clearly in the twists, location construction and character voices. However, a house restricted to the background and a neatly tied up ending has kept me from giving this the full five-stars, but I will call it a favourite as I just can’t stop thinking about it and I really want to re-read it.
If you’d like to pick up Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key for yourself you can find it on Goodreads, Waterstones and other retail outlets. Please let me know if you have also read this so that we can have a chat!
Goodreads: Vicky Lord
No links in this review are affiliate, sponsored and I bought my copy myself from personal interest.