Hello, my darling readers!
Last year Netflix dropped a second season to The Haunting of Hill House. Naturally, I was super excited and binged The Haunting of Bly Manor asap. Well, the novella it’s based on has been on my to-read list for ages, so I’m finally catching up!
The Plot (as found on Goodreads):
A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.
Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…
But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.
For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.
(For the Netflix adaptation the story is updated a bit and takes place in the 1980s)
Book vs. TV Show:
Okay, so I have a LOT of thoughts on the novella, but I’ll start with the show as I watched it before reading Henry James’s story.
There are a lot of things I tremendously enjoyed about the adaptation. First of all, the casting was amazing and every single one of the actors and actresses delivered. It was cool that several of the cast members we met in The Haunting of Hill House got to return.
The scenery was also atmospheric af. Bly Manor is my gothic horror mansion dream and I was rather excited that we got to explore that venue. I also liked the 80’s vibe that was definitely present but not overpowering. You could tell it’s set in the ’80s based on the clothes and stuff but it was subtle. No giant perms or anything! Not to get ahead of myself with this but this way the story fell extremely timeless and I was surprised how many elements were directly from the novella.
The story was rather intricate and they added a lot of new elements (as opposed to the source material) making for many intense new scenes. Overall, I liked the added elements a lot as it gave the story depth and also some more sense. I’ll get to that in a moment but the novella was kind of weak in the plot and logic department, especially in comparison with the show.
While there are many things I quite enjoyed, there are also a couple of elements that didn’t 100% work for me. The two kid actors both gave stellar performances (and me the creeps!) but I found their characters just SOOOOO annoying. How many times does that girl say “perfectly splendid”? It made me want to scream.
There is a pretty cool episode (shot in black and white) that explains the origin of the curse plaguing Bly Manor. Visually this was stunning but the episode dragged on a bit. I was really excited about the backstory, but it could have been told with more intensity in half the time.
Generally speaking, there are episodes that drag a little at some point. The pacing of this season is just the slightest bit off. But honestly, that didn’t bother me too much as we were rewarded with so many brilliant scenes! Take for example the one where Miss Jessel (played by Tahirah Sharif) screams. No spoilers but if you watched the show you’ll know exactly which scene I mean. That was just stellar!
As you can see, I am pretty excited about the show! The novella had actually been sitting on my e-reader for ages but somehow I had never gotten around to reading it. Well, what better time to finally get to it than now? After all, we’re talking about 130 pages, so how long can that take?
It turns out, ages.
Boy, this novella annoyed the shit out of me. Where do I even start?
Maybe with the beginning. Henry James decided to frame the actual story like this: some guy tells the story (a manuscript that had been sent to him) around the open fire. This has the potential to be cool but somehow it falls flat because after the story at Bly is done, we never return to that scene. When I finished the last chapter I googled whether my edition was missing a chapter or something as it just felt so odd!
However, this was not the only issue. The next thing I had to deal with was James’s way of expressing himself. Although it’s such a short story it took me forever and a day to read it. At first, I thought that it’s because I’m not a native English speaker and the language is a bit old-timey. But when I thought about it some more (I actually read quite a lot of older books and never had a problem like this) and checked out some reviews, I realized the problem isn’t me.
That brings us to the story per se, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. First of all, I couldn’t be bothered to care for the governess. I found her rather annoying and her train of thought was impossible to follow. She constantly arrives at conclusions that seemingly come out of nowhere or have no backup whatsoever. At one point she actually says “The chain of my logic was ever too much for her.” I’m not kidding. Well, it was too much for me as well. While there might have been an interesting aspect here (are there really ghosts or is the governess mad?), I didn’t even care to invest my time and thoughts into that as so much of the surrounding stuff made no sense whatsoever. For example, the boy gets expelled from school, the letter doesn’t say why but nobody asks him about that. Ever. Until like the last chapter.
Additionally, I found the ghosts’ behaviors also rather weird. Several of the characters mentioned that Jessel and Quint behaved rather weird when they were alive and I didn’t really understand the problem. Well, after reading the Wikipedia article, it appears they both were child molesters. That did not come through for me in the story at all. They mention that they were close with the kids but it didn’t dawn on me that that’s what James meant.
Moreover, I never understood (and still don’t) why the ghosts are there. They didn’t die at Bly (?) so why are they connected to the place? And why are they so easily expelled basically by the governess uttering a stern word? Questions over questions and no answers.
The end of the story was also weird. It could have potential were you inclined to explore the idea mentioned above (the governess’s sanity). But honestly, by the time I reached the final chapter, I was annoyed and just 100% done, so I didn’t even care to invest a single additional second thinking about it.
This turned into a rather long post, I’m sorry for that. However, there were just so many things I disliked about the novella! The adaptation on the other hand, while not flawless either, was captivating to watch and made so much more sense! Additionally, the story and the characters have more depth and thus made for a more chilling experience. My advice is to just skip the novella. It may be short but every minute spent on that book is wasted. Just stick to the adaptation!
Did you prefer the book or the show? Let me know in the comments!