It was work to get through this novel and I tend to agree with a lot of other reviewers that you get the sense that James was so focused on being clever with his language, and making things decidedly ambiguous, that he loses a bit of the ability to drive the story forward. There's a slow build that definitely creates a sense of anticipation, and James cleverly builds horrifying experience upon horrifying experience to a rather flat conclusion. The build-up is better than the resolution.
To be sure the story is very clever, and cleverly told. It is an experience encapsulated within the context of a ghost story, an oral narrative that feels genuine and believable, but captured in text and re-told often enough to put a bit of doubt in your mind as to its authenticity. The relationships of the figures involved in the narration further clouds the sincerity of the story itself, and this plays to James's advantage. Was the governess mad? Did she really see ghosts at Bly house? There's enough evidence on both sides to write a decent paper. There's a ton of symbolism in the book that is subtly crafted and quite clever and the dual nature of the children themselves, their depiction as angelic creatures that can do no wrong and whose innocence is infectious provides a stark and startling contrast to some rather wild moments in the narrative. One this is certain: this is definitely a tale of abuse - whether that abuse is physical or supernatural is left for you to decide, though I think there is plenty of room and probably a lot to say in favor of, a middle interpretation. Do not our own histories and memories sometimes appear like ghosts out of the past to haunt our present selves? Could this be what ails the children?
I give James credit for breaking ground with this type of tale. One sees a prototype for horror/mystery stories that involve the reader's interpretation and making room for many of the great stories to follow in this vein. I admit that I kind of got lost in his narrative, which true to 19th century prose, was not lacking in verbosity. The man has a knack for adding just enough subordinate clauses to statements that you forget what the original point was. It was slow reading because I wanted to pick up on what he was trying to say and why he was saying it in such a way, but there were times when I just shut the language off and pushed ahead and stuck with the base images they formed in my mind like a drama, and perhaps I wish I hadn't, but there is so much to read this summer. Will probably attempt this one again in the future.