The Observations

( 16 )

Overview

The Observations is a hugely assured and darkly funny debut set in nineteenth-century Scotland. Bessy Buckley, the novel's heroine, is a cynical, wide-eyed, and tender fifteen-year-old Irish girl who takes a job as a maid in a once-grand country house outside Edinburgh, where all is not as it seems. Asked by her employer, the beautiful Arabella, to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts, Bessy soon makes a troubling discovery and realizes that she has fled her difficult past only to arrive in an even more ...

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The Observations

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Overview

The Observations is a hugely assured and darkly funny debut set in nineteenth-century Scotland. Bessy Buckley, the novel's heroine, is a cynical, wide-eyed, and tender fifteen-year-old Irish girl who takes a job as a maid in a once-grand country house outside Edinburgh, where all is not as it seems. Asked by her employer, the beautiful Arabella, to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts, Bessy soon makes a troubling discovery and realizes that she has fled her difficult past only to arrive in an even more disturbing present.

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
By turns funny and sad, but always true to the ear. And the sprightly, profane Bessy is a joy.
London Review of Books
It's a rare feeling to be swept up by a book in the childhood way, but when it happens, it's extraordinary: deeply familiar and strangely unsettling.
The Observer (London)
The Observations combines the best qualities of literary fiction with page-turning accessibility.
Publishers Weekly
Bessy Buckley comes upon Castle Haivers on her way to Edinburgh in 1863. An Irish girl, she's in "Scratchland" to improve her station, and ends up a scullery maid to a strange, lovely mistress, Arabella Reid (on whom she develops something of a crush), despite her lack of experience. Bessy's discovery of Arabella's book, The Observations, which she is writing about servants she's had and their cooperativeness, tests her loyalty to Arabella ("the missus") five-fold and sets in motion a tragedy (complete with supernatural elements). Bessy learns that being above-stairs is no guarantee of happiness, and others may have as much to hide as she does. Sharp, funny and tender-hearted, Bessy is an accomplishment for Londoner and first-time novelist Harris, who also manages the pace, period and book-within-a-book conceit nicely. (June 19) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Irish lass Bessy is puzzled when her new mistress, Arabella, asks her to keep a journal-and not a little alarmed when she realizes how obsessed Arabella is with deceased maid Nell. An award-winning British short story writer and filmmaker debuts as a novelist. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In her entertaining debut, a British writer hands the job of storytelling to a saucily streetwise servant in Victorian Scotland. Daisy O'Toole (aka Bessy Buckley) leaps to irresistible life on page one of this historical mystery/romp-she's a savvy, earthy, comical and compelling character in search of decent work, having already earned her stripes as a child prostitute and live-in concubine when she was probably no older than 14. Despite her salty tongue and seen-it-all attitude, she charms her way into employment at Castle Haivers, working as the "in and out girl" (i.e., maid) for Arabella Reid, who is secretly writing Observations on the Habits and Nature of the Domestic Class in My Time, for which she obliges Daisy to write a (semi-literate) journal. Harris neatly layers these texts, with their omissions, embellishments and varied versions of the facts. Daisy learns from Arabella's book that a previous maid, Nora, a model servant, met a nasty end under the wheels of a speeding train. Daisy uses her own journal to exploit her mistress's nerves and Arabella has a breakdown, her mental health now given over to the care of her husband and a doctor keen to apply punishing contemporary remedies. (While Sarah Waters's Fingersmith took a different, more terrifying look at Victorian treatment of the insane, the authors have in common an invigorating modern approach to historical fiction.) Harris's story, though light on plot, is rich in character, its strength deriving almost wholly from Daisy's irrepressible and ripe narrative voice. A helter-skelter conclusion combines farce (Arabella escapes confinement and beats with a shovel the pompous cleric responsible for Nora's downfall), tragedy(another death on the railway line) and moral improvement (Daisy's virtues recognized), takes a few sideswipes at the publishing business and still leaves the door open for what Daisy might do next. Rollicking and engaging. A confident, fresh, roguishly charming first work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143112013
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 6/27/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 512,036
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Harris's short stories have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and she has written several award-winning short films. In 2000, she received a Writer's Award from the Arts Council of England.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2011

    Entertaining

    I thought this was a unique and entertaining read. It was definitely a page turner that I just could not put down. The characters were rich and the author is a great story teller.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2007

    Excellent Debut Novel

    I loved every minute of this book. The narrator is completely engaging: a runaway teen with a shady background in Victorian Scotland, who signs on as a maid with the beautiful mistress of a crumbling mansion in the countryside. It isn't long before Bessy's mistress begins making some - well, rather peculiar requests. From then on the fates of the two women are inextricably linked. Ms. Harris clearly researched the era well - so much so that I wish she had included a slang glossary somewhere, since many words and whole phrases were completely incomprehensible to me! That aside, this book is suspenseful, absorbing, and moving. I look forward to more novels from this author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Observations is an historical fiction novel set in Scotland

    The Observations is an historical fiction novel set in Scotland 1863. Bessy Buckley, 15 years old, left Scotland and is on her way to Edinburgh seeking a position as a housekeeper. Her prostitute mother had her working on the streets at age 10. She was selected by a Jewish man named Mr. Levy to become his live-in mistress. When Mr. Levy dies, Bessy decides to leave Glasgow and start a new life. She arrives at Castle Haivers, a old house outside Edinburgh and is hired by Arabella Reid to become her maid. Arabella chose Bessy mainly because of her reading and writing abilities. For years, Arabella has requested her maids to record in a journal daily what chores they had performed and their daily reflections.

    Soon Bessy discovers that Arabella is writing a book about her" observations" from the journal entries of her maids. Bessy finds Arabella's notes and discovers that Arabella has checked into her background and knows about Bessy's past. Bessy is very unhappy about some of Arabella's opinions of her. Arabella's favorite maid was Nora, a young Irish maid who was found dead on the railroad tracks closeby. These findings cause Bessy to become jealous of Nora and Bessy decides to play tricks on Arabella in order to pay her back for her negative notes regarding Bessy's performance and past. Things spiral out of control and Bessy starts to realize there are secrets about Nora's death which she wants to find out about.

    Jane Harris's debut novel is well written. It's a little odd but very entertaining. The story is told by Bessy whose language is unique and unusual and very funny at times. The plot takes many unexpected twists and turns which only adds to an unputdownable read.

    I have read Jane Harris's 2nd novel, Gillespie and I, and have enjoyed that one too. If you like Gothic novels, you would enjoy this one. I must add the warning that this novel is a bit strange in parts which only adds to the adventure in my opinion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Truly original and enjoyable

    I fell in love with this book! The writers style is brilliant and her characters very original. This is a very special book. It is so unique and different! This book has a different feel and flow to it then anything I have ever read before. That is great because that is exactly what I was looking for-something different.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2007

    Amazingly captivating from start to finish

    I simply could not put this book down. I finished it in 3 days flat. Bessy's funny account of her unfortunate situations made her character intriguing and likable. Also the twists and turns within the plot made for a wonderful novel. I loved this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2006

    Something missing

    I congratulate the author on her first novel, but personally felt something was missing. The plot was both intriguing, and satisfying, and the characters were well developed. Although, I found the characters believable I could not get close to them and found this dissapointing... However, once all the threads are knotted, it is a good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2006

    Suprisingly Really Good Read!

    Masterfully written and conveyed extremely realistically, I couldn't put this novel down from the second I picked it up. It is thoroughly entertaining and definitely unpredictable. In short, a surprisingly good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2006

    A wonderful surprise

    What a wonderful way to spend a week. I've been lost in this book happily for days now. I recommend this to anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2006

    How's gramma(r)?

    I had a difficult time with Daisy's toggling between dialect and 'high' English from sentence to sentence. For example, is 'I knew at once from the look on her 'phiz' (emphasis mine) .....the thought had already occurred to her.' Even so the story is an entertaining look at how the little lies we tell can affect us as well as those around us. Daisy had not intended to create problems for her missus and was thrilled to become a new person, however, her old ways bubbled to the surface and carried the story to its conclusion.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 22, 2008

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    Posted April 1, 2012

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    Posted October 28, 2008

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    Posted February 5, 2011

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    Posted January 5, 2009

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    Posted January 31, 2013

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    Posted August 4, 2011

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