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The Observations Paperback – 1 Feb 2007

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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: 12.6 x 3.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,748 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

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 May 2006
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By U. Sinha on 21 Sep 2009
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 By J. Griffiths on 18 April 2006
Format: Hardcover
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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