October 20, 2012

Book Review: Miles and Flora by Hilary Bailey

Due to the horrific headache I have had, there have been few options for me as regarding entertainment. Despite the fact that reading and headaches do not usually mix well, books have been my chief consolation over the past few days. I finished The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir in a gulp (review coming soon!) and found myself at a bit of a loss. What to read now? I wanted something a bit creepy yet old fashioned, and ended up turning to Miles and Flora by Hilary Bailey. I was skeptical of the very concept of the book--it is a modern sequel to Henry James' masterpiece The Turn of the Screw--but had been curious enough to buy it secondhand. After all, The Turn of the Screw left so many questions unanswered! Such as:


Was the haunting real or was it the product of the fevered imagination of the governess?

Were Miles and Flora really innocent children or had they been horribly corrupted by their dead friends?

What killed Miles? Did he die of fear at the insane words and actions of his governess? Or did the ghost of Peter Quint steal his soul?

What happened to Flora? We are told she is on her way to her uncle, but whether she meets the same fate as her brother or not is never mentioned.

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The book Miles and Flora picks up years after the horrible events at Bly. Apparently Flora did survive and is now a lovely young lady, a bit dreamy but well-liked, looking forward to marrying the young man of her choice. At the same time, her former governess is very ill and is being tended by her sister, who is completely ignorant of the Bly tragedy. The story moves back and forth between the two settings until they become intertwined once more. The reader finds herself liking and sympathizing with the governess's sister Margaret as she attempts to discover the reasons for the invalid's increasingly alarming actions. The characters of Margaret and of Henry Reeves, a mutual friend of the sisters and of Flora's family, are so well done that they actually carry the story and keep the reader interested when the references to the events of The Turn of the Screw are so confused as to make the book otherwise unreadable.

Sadly, even a likable hero and heroine cannot save this sad attempt at a sequel. Where James's original was terrifying, Miles and Flora is only mildly disturbing at most, and the conclusion and indeed entire explanation as to the haunting is so bizarre as to be ludicrous.


In the end we find that Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper of Bly, and Elaine the former governess of Miles and Flora, are actually responsible for feeding the children to the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Why did they do this? We are not told. Apparently they hope to gain something by it but what? They end up being food for the ghosts themselves, and apparently this is of their own free will. Why? No idea, sorry.
Further, at the end both Flora and her new baby boy and her husband are all taken by the ghosts of Miles, Quint, and Jessel. Why? It is said that they are needed, and that is all we are given.

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Bottom line, do not bother reading this book. While the writing reveals the author to have great promise, the poorly-planned denouement and lack of clarity completely ruin the book and make you long to throw it across the room. Like most modern sequels to classics, Miles and Flora is an insult to the original work and its author. I give it two stars, due only to the truly interesting story of Margaret and Henry.

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