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The Observations Hardcover – 6 Apr 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 124 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571223354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571223350
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 862,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Harris was born in Belfast and grew up in Scotland before moving to England in her 20s. Her first book "The Observations" was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007 and the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in 2009. Her second novel "Gillespie and I" was shortlisted for the National Book Awards in 2011 and the Scottish Book Awards in 2012.

Product Description


'Harris’s voice is an original one, and her rollicking yet delicate narrative pitch sets the book apart' -- The Guardian, April 2006

'I wept at the end of this brilliant first novel' -- Sunday Herald, April 2006

'This intriguing, ghostly read will have you hooked from page one. Fantastic.’ -- Company Magazine

'What distinguishes Harris's book from the rest is her sense of comedy' -- Time Out, April 12, 2006

'a page-turning narrative' -- Daily Mail, April 2006

'funny and original.... What lifts the book out of the ordinary is Bessy's compelling narrative voice' -- Sunday Times, April 9, 2006

'her voice will hold you in thrall for the next 400 pages' -- The Times, March 2006

'it is not the flawless plot that leaves the reader rapt but instead, Bessy’s comic observations.' -- Daily Express, April 2006

Brilliantly written. Harris’s richly comic, deeply touching novel is destined to be one of the publishing sensations of the year -- Scotland on Sunday, 19 March

The Observations has all the necessary ingredients for a Rebecca-like absorption. -- London Review of Books

Book Description

A darkly humorous and intriguing story of one woman's journey from a difficult past into an even more disturbing present ... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There are so many novels written these days which are set in the Victorian era that they even have their own category - "Vic Lit". However while there are certainly parallels with, in particular, both "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters and "The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michel Faber Jane Harris has certainly added something new to the genre. What makes her novel stand out is the voice of the narrator, Bessy Buckley, a serving girl of tender years who finds herself in the employ of the likeable but slightly peculiar Arabella Reid. Bessy is our only entry into the world of the novel, the tale we read is ostensibly written by her, and her voice is startlingly original and entertaining. Writing in a Scottish-Victorian highly intelligent but fairly uneducated patois Bessy's narrative is full of gloriously funny, and rather bawdy, observations on the events that are played out around her. During the course of the novel she describes her life at Castle Haivers - a run down old house in the middle of a Scottish nowhere - and her dealings with Hector (an earthily vigourous young chap with designs on everything female within a radius of five miles); Master James, the owner of the house and a man with political ambitions; the pompous and hypocritical Reverend Pollock; sundry servants such as Muriel, whom Bessy less than affectionately describes as "Curdle Features" and, most importantly, the lady of the house, Arabella Reid, whom Bessy affectionately calls "Missus" in her narrative.

The plot centres around Bessy's relationship with Arabella and, in particular, the book Arabella is writing on the subject of servants. However, as Bessy digs a little deeper into the past, she discovers that one of her predecessors, the saintly Nora, died in mysterious circumstances.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I won't go into the plot of this as so many people have already covered it so well in their reviews, but I would confirm that the book is written in an outstandingly entertaining and cheeky voice. Bessie is a wonderful character and her summings up of other characters is masterly. In a few sentences one has a clear picture of them, as seen through Bessie's eyes. One of the strengths of this novel is that the voice and point of view never slips. Everything is seen through the filter of Bessie's opinions, a difficult feat to pull off. As at least one person has remarked, there is a similarity to Sarah Waters' Victorian novels but for me this worked better because the events stayed firmly in the real world, while carrying all the excitement of a thriller. Very, very clever and entertaining and I have put it on my reading list for my creative writing courses next year as an example of an impressive crossover between literary and popular writing. There is nothing pretentious about this book - it aims to entertain and does it brilliantly, without putting a foot wrong. Better than Dan Brown any day!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel tells the story of a young Irish girl, Bessy Buckley, and how she ends up at Castle Haivers (not as grand as it sounds) with her beloved Missus, Arabella Reid, and Master James. Bessy is very young, described as between fourteen and sixteen, and her blend of world wearyness, sharp cynicism and deep need and devotion, make her a compelling character. The missus seems a trifle strange - until Bessy discovers she is writing a book about servants; the Observations of the title. Ever curious, Bessy discovers that there have been many girls before her, but none like the sainted Nora who mysteriously disappeared. As Bessy attempts to replace Nora in her mistresses affections, her ploys lead to consequences she could never have predicted.

Sharply plotted, humorous but also intensely moving, the book moves towards a truly surprising climax. It is rare to find a book which makes you laugh out loud, yet also makes you feel such sympathy and sadness for the characters. This is a really good read and a brilliant debut.
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Format: Paperback
1863 and Irish teenager Bessy Buckley, an intelligent, streetwise yet tender hearted girl, leaves Glasgow where she has had an abusive past, forced into prostitution at ten years of age by her mother, to make a better a life for herself and comes into the employ of Arabella Reid in a beautiful mansion named Castle Haivers near Edinburgh. she develops an infatuation with her glamorous but unstable mistress and is all to eager to please Arabella, who performs strange experiments on her. But this changes when she discovers a journal of her mistress entitled 'Observations' on the 'habits of the domestic class' in which Arabella says some uncomplimentary things about young Bessy and also reveals her infatuation for a previous maid named Nora who died in mysterious circumstances. Hurt and incensed Bessy decides to play a childish prank to get revenge, but this sets in motion a series of weird and dangerous occurrences and many twists and turns. Humorous, witty, at times sad and at others chilling, but always impossible to put down and always a magnificent read-this novel has it all. I fell in love with Bessy and it was her wonderful, witty, tart, pert, adorable, and warm hearted character, with a wonderful turn of phrase -such gems as 'pigs pizzle' 'I could't give a fleas fart' and 'Jesus Murphy' This makes sure the book was never dull. As you come to know Bessy you will want to follow her adventure to the end. A cast of Dickensian characters which Bessy interacts with makes this one of the best debut novels on the 2000s. This is a wonderful read and cannot be recommended enough.
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