The Observations

The Observations

4.1 16
by Jane Harris
     
 

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A deliriously captivating tale of sex, ghosts, lies, and mysteries. (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)

By turns funny and sad, but always true to the ear. And the sprightly, profane Bessy is a joy. (Entertainment Weekly)

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. (London Review of Books)

The Observations combines the best qualities of literary fiction with page-turning accessibility. (The Observer, London)

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:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/27/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
777,843
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Elizabeth Gilbert
A deliriously captivating tale of sex, ghosts, lies, and mysteries. (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)
From the Publisher
A deliriously captivating tale of sex, ghosts, lies, and mysteries. (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)

By turns funny and sad, but always true to the ear. And the sprightly, profane Bessy is a joy. (Entertainment Weekly)

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. (London Review of Books)

The Observations combines the best qualities of literary fiction with page-turning accessibility. (The Observer, London)

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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