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The Observations [Paperback]

Jane Harris
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

1 Feb 2007
Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley - the wide-eyed Irish heroine of The Observations - takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own - including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Reprint edition (1 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571223362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571223367
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 73,662 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


'A mesmerising story about suspicion and redemption.' -- Daily Express

'A refreshingly sharp novel: warm, funny and moving.' -- Sunday Times

'Bessy Buckley is gloriously gobby . . . An ebullient antidote to
all those po-faced historical sagas.' -- Observer

'Bessy is an irrepressible heroine with a ribald eye for the
ridiculous . . . Her voice is the book's triumph.' -- Guardian

Book Description

A darkly humorous and intriguing story of one woman's journey from a difficult past into an even more disturbing present ...

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flip me but this is entertaining and original! 1 May 2006
By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Observations 26 April 2012
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary achievement 18 April 2006
For the first few pages I wondered whether I would have the patience to wrestle with the Victorian/Scottish slang/patois which Jane Harris uses in 'The Observations'. But in no time at all I was tuned in to the unique 'voice' of Bessy Buckley, our narrator and heroine. And what a girl she is! Feisty, funny, smart, outrageous and thoroughly likeable - she can cope with anything that life throws at her. She tells her story without self-pity or self-congratulation (even managing to convince us that her past life as the thirteen year-old mistress of a sixty-one year old man wasn't too bad). The book concerns her time working as a maid for Arabella and James Reid at Castle Haivers and her involvement with the hilarious characters and strange events that go on there. The plot is intriguing and the details of what life must have been for the servant class in 1863 are fascinating. But it's Bessy's VOICE that I found so appealing - she could make the phonebook fascinating. 'Flip me'(to quote Bessy) I raise a glass to Harris's amazing achievement.

It's a long book but I was forced to ration myself or we might not have eaten at all over Easter. I'm still suffering withdrawal symptoms, three days after finishing it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Gripping storyline and funny, likeable narrative voice.
Published 5 days ago by Moira Witherow
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting and engrossing story
Bessy Buckley is an engaging character with a really interesting story. The book is set in 19th century rural Scotland, the language is authentic and yet easy to follow and the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sue Bentley
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
The only negative to this book is when it comes to the end! I loved it from start to finish and could hardly put it down. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lesley
4.0 out of 5 stars A comical page turner.
A good read, with some lovely, humorous language and phrases. An interesting and different sort of story, well worth reading.
Published 5 months ago by natalie strickland
4.0 out of 5 stars Just love Bessy
This is as emotive and evocative as Gillespie and I but there were less twists and turns in the story. Bessy is a survivor. Read more
Published 5 months ago by jivebanana
4.0 out of 5 stars The first of her books that I have read but would be happy to try...
This is a very good, well told story. Really unusual with many interesting and memorable characters. It is not a romance, rather a story of a strange friendship. Read more
Published 8 months ago by christie
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but not incredible
This is one of those hard-to-classify novels that is difficult to sum up in a few lines for a review. Read more
Published 8 months ago by BookWorm
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not pick this one up if you have a life to attend to.
Oh Bessy, I love you and I miss you and why did this book had to be so short? OK, I admit that five hundred pages do not constitute a short book, and yet, I could have read another... Read more
Published 8 months ago by LyraSilvertongue
1.0 out of 5 stars Not my kind of book
I broke my own rule (originally created about 50 years ago) which said I always had to finish a book once I started it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Clarissa
5.0 out of 5 stars A convincing voice from the past
This book is wonderful and largely this is to do with the narration which is wholly plausible as that of an ill-educated but bright working-class woman. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Woodworm
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