The Turn of the Key was a great book! I listened to it on Audible, which always makes books set in the UK more enjoyable.
This book gets four stars from me! I thought it was great although I do have some questions about plausibility, but that might just mean I wasn’t listening enough. The only reason it does not earn five stars is because it isn’t a story I’m going to think about too much in the future.
I will remember how it made me feel because I was so shocked to realize the story wasn’t about what I thought it was about! So maybe a 4.5.
These questions are selected from the Simon and Schuster website. Spoilers ahead!
1. The book opens with Rowan Caine’s desperate plea for help from prison. If you received this letter as Mr. Wrexham, would you keep reading? Is there anything she could say that would persuade you to represent her?
Given that the letter was a novel, I probably would not have taken the time to read it. Had I for some reason spent two weeks reading it, I don’t think I would have seen any opportunity or explanation to prove she wasn’t guilty beside ghost. I don’t know of any verdict that has acknowledged the presence of supernatural influences, so I would not have been hopeful about her defense. The only detail that helped is the fact they had lost four nannies in the preceding year, but that isn’t much to go on.
2. Maddie, the second oldest girl, has an unexpected reaction to Rowan’s departure and makes a terrifying proclamation: “Don’t come here. It’s not safe” (p. 74). After everything Rowan saw and learned in the previous twenty-four hours, should she have heeded Maddie’s warning? Would you have listened to Maddie?
With a job like that was too good to be true, I definitely would have been looking for signs it was in fact not true! I would have taken Maddie’s warning as the red flag it was. Even if the child was just messing with her, I wouldn’t expect taking care of a child like that to be easy.
3. Rowan has a very negative first impression of Bill Elincourt and their relationship only gets worse from there. Why is her initial reaction so strong? How would you handle the ensuing harassment by an employer?
She reacted so strongly to Bill because he was her dad! I think she was disappointed in who he turned out to be. And of course she was horrified at the sexual harassment but knowing it’s coming from your own father would have been repulsive.
4. After the house goes haywire in the middle of the night, Rowan is sleep-deprived, on edge, and paranoid, and she jumps to several rash conclusions. Are these thoughts reasonable possibilities or delusions based in fear? Imagine how you might respond in her situation.
I would have been just as frazzled at her. Sleep deprivation on it’s own can make you crazy, but add mysterious, malevolent activity on top of it, and you have a recipe for a nervous breakdown. All the theories Rowan came up with seemed plausible to me.
5. The Elincourts’ housekeeper, Jean McKenzie, immediately dislikes Rowan, but it seems to run deeper than their negative first encounter. Why? Could Jean be the one tormenting Rowan at night, as she suspects?
I considered whether it was Jean, but ultimately didn’t think she was the type to be bothered with bothering with technology. She seemed like a simple person with better things to worry about than pulling pranks.
Her dislike for Rowan is defensiveness of the family based on her experiences with the previous nannies.
6. Rowan is deeply disturbed by the girl in Maddie’s drawing. “Tears were streaming down her face, her mouth was open in a despairing wail, and there were red scribbles of blood on her face and on her dress” (p. 228). What do you think it represents? Do you think Rowan should have addressed this directly?
Rowan certainly should have inquired about the origin of the scene depicted. I would have been concerned about if it was something Maddie witnessed or something shown to her by a spirit.
But I think this is an image of the pain she inflicted on another nanny. I don’t believe Maddie was just defending her family. She had deeper issues.
7. Rowan’s opinion of Jack changes repeatedly in her short time at Heatherbrae. He began as her confidant, became her lead suspect, and finally seemed to earn her trust. Do you think he is trustworthy? Why or why not?
I think Jack is trustworthy because he seemed like a simple man with nothing to gain from Rachel’s demise. He was always helpful and didn’t mind hard work.
But I wouldn’t have trusted him simply because she shouldn’t have trusted anything there! She should have kept her guard up until she figured out what was really going on.
8. We finally learn who Rachel Gerhardt is and of her personal connection to the family. Were there any clues that led you to suspect this before the big reveal? Do you believe Rachel’s version of events as she explains them to Mr. Wrexham?
I couldn’t believe Rachel was not Rowan and then that Rachel was Bill’s daughter. Gasp! I did to suspect any of this at all. I only knew Rachel was hiding something based on when Maddie asked if she didn’t like her roommate after the phone call, and Rachel’s foreshadowing comment about what her reason for lying was, and what she was looking for when she came across the job posting anyway.
9. In the last chapter, the truth of what happened to Maddie is finally revealed. How does Ellie’s letter align with Rachel’s retelling of that night? What, if any, questions remain?
I was so surprised to learn that Ellie killed her sister and was able to remain inconspicuous! How would she not have been traumatized???
Even though we know everything going on in the house was Maddie’s doing, I still don’t understand how she got into the attic. She was scaling the side of the house?
10. The entire book is written as a letter to a defense attorney from prison. Discuss how this adds to or detracts from the story. How did you feel knowing a child would die from the beginning? Did it ruin the element of surprise or elevate the feeling of suspense?
I couldn’t get past the idea she wrote an entire novel as a letter. Yeah, I’m a literal person. However, the story as a letter was a good device because it helped me feel Rachel’s desperation.
Knowing a child would die gave me a sense of dread but also more interest in finding out what happened. I was rooting for Rachel not to actually be guilty.
11. Discuss Heatherbrae House and its many “amenities.” What it would be like to live in a house dependent on technology? Could you live there?
I have watched enough Black Mirror to know that a house reliant technology is a sitting duck for a malicious attack. There are so many points of vulnerability when so much of the house is controlled remotely! Which is what happened when the lights and sound system went haywire.
The technology was a point of weakness just as it was a strength because it created dependency on technology to work as expected and helplessness when it didn’t.
Aside from that, I would not be comfortable with that level of vigilance. Rachel always had to wonder if Sondra was looking in on her. It made her feel like she needed to be perfect at all times, when no one ever is.
12. The story jumps from 2017 to 2019, when the letters to Mr. Wrexham and those from Jean McKenzie and Ellie are discovered. The man who found them reveals two important details. First, that Rachel never sent her pleas for help and second, that the truth they reveal no longer matters. Discuss why the letters never posted and what happened to Rachel in those two years.
I like to think the letters did not post because by the time Rachel finished writing her novel, the truth had already been discovered. It would have taken her at least a couple weeks to write all that.
She also may have just lost hope that Mr. Wrexham would help her. She had a long story, with no alternative theories that weren’t reliant on supernatural forces.
Unfortunately, I think she committed suicide. She became more depressed and hopeless as she won’t the story and by the time it was finished, maybe she no longer believed she was not responsible. On top of her guilt and hopelessness, she did not fare well in prison, so all of those realities together may have been too much.
I thought this book was very clever. I never saw the turns coming. The fact that this wasn’t a ghost story is still blowing my mind!
Throughout the whole story, you’re wondering how it will culminate in a death, a death by ghost. You learn that everything had an explanation and a sad, sad motivation.
If you like this book, I highly recommend Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. Get it for free on Audible!
Check out the the podcast episode of this discussion. Leave your answers in the comments!