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135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flip me but this is entertaining and original!
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...
Published on 1 May 2006 by Gregory S. Buzwell

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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great
The novel is set in late 19th century Scotland and tells the story of Bessy Buckley, a young Irish girl, who is desperate to flee from her difficult, dark past. Her escape route to Glasgow leads her past a country estate - Castle Haivers - where she finds employment as a respectable, though clueless maid. Bessy latches on to her employer, the beautiful, but seemingly odd...
Published on 29 May 2007 by K. J. Black


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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 "bagpuss007" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Observations (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. Unfortunate accident or something more sinister? Bessy is determined to find out and in the process she sets off a chain of events that plunge the inhabitants of Castle Haivers into a world of secrets, lies and distinctly spooky goings on.

This book really does have something for everyone and, like most of the reviewers on this page, I raced through the novel in a matter of a few days. It's laugh-out-loud funny in places (Bessy's after-dinner sing song for the Master of the house and his distinguished guests being a highlight) and distinctly creepy in others, the whole plot strand to do with Nora twists and turns and creeps in ways that would have been a credit to the likes of M.R. James, but it's the sheer exuberance and originality of the narrative voice that makes it a real winner. Bessy is quite a character and I defy anyone to be bored by her company. Highly original. Highly recommended!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Observations, 26 April 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Observations (Kindle Edition)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Original, funny with an outstanding narrative voice, 21 Sep 2009
By 
U. Sinha "Umi Sinha" (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Observations (Paperback)
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
By 
J. Griffiths (Cardiff, Cardiff United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Observations (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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous, witty, fast paced, heart warming and at times sad adventure,, 28 July 2011
By 
This review is from: The Observations (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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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 29 May 2007
By 
This review is from: The Observations (Paperback)
The novel is set in late 19th century Scotland and tells the story of Bessy Buckley, a young Irish girl, who is desperate to flee from her difficult, dark past. Her escape route to Glasgow leads her past a country estate - Castle Haivers - where she finds employment as a respectable, though clueless maid. Bessy latches on to her employer, the beautiful, but seemingly odd Arabella Reid. Their complex `friendship' as well as the mysterious death of Bessy's predecessor, Nora, form the core of the book's plot line.

The Observations has been short-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction 2007, but I would be very surprised if it won (despite the fact that I've not read any of the other short-listed books). Not to say this is a bad book, not at all. Actually, it is extremely well written and for a first book it is fantastic. Jane Harris's use of language is marvellous and her story telling entertaining. Bessy is a very likeable character with a good sense of humour and the book's narrative is easy to follow. Jane Harris writes honestly and unpretentiously, giving the book a nice and light feel.

But, a prize-winning book needs more than that. It needs to be ground breaking, moving, exceptionally creative or thought provoking and The Observations is none of these things. It's just a simple tale, which I'll probably forget all about in a few years time. Considering the lack of a surprising and spectacular ending, it's also way too long. Therefore, despite being a good book, I won't be going out and buying tons of copies for friends and family and hence I can't really recommend it wholeheartedly here. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the book and believe that Jane Harris is an author to look out for in the future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story with an unforgettable narrator!, 24 Aug 2011
By 
Helen S - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Observations (Paperback)
The Observations is set in Scotland during the 19th century. Bessy Buckley, a young Irish girl, is on the run from her troubled past when she arrives at the estate of Castle Haivers near the village of Snatter. The lady of the house, Arabella Reid, offers her a job as maid and Bessy jumps at the chance. But Bessy is puzzled by the series of bizarre tasks which Arabella orders her to perform - and when she discovers that a previous maid, Nora, may have died under suspicious circumstances, it becomes obvious that things at Castle Haivers are not quite what they seem.

The Observations is a long book but was so gripping I read it in half the time it would normally take me to read a book of similar length. What makes this novel so different from all the others I've read set in the Victorian era is Bessy Buckley herself. Bessy is a fabulous character and narrator: funny and witty, poorly educated but bright and intelligent, tough and outspoken yet sensitive and warm hearted. When you first begin to read you might come across some unusual language and slang, not to mention some unconventional grammar and punctuation, but don't worry about that - it's all part of Bessy's unique voice and her narration was a delight to read. The only thing that irritated me slightly was seeing numbers written as figures rather than words (1/2 instead of 'half', for example).

The relationship between Bessy and her mistress forms a big part of the story, but there are a few other interesting sub-plots, as well as the story of Bessy's own childhood which emerges slowly throughout the book. There are shades of other Victorian novels, as well as some elements of the gothic novel and the ghost story, but the overall result is something completely original. The one criticism I have is that, after a very strong start, the story seems to lose momentum in the second half and the ending was slightly disappointing in comparison to the rest of the book.

Having loved both this book and her second novel, Gillespie and I, Jane Harris has been added to my list of favourite authors!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read!, 2 Dec 2009
By 
A. L. TINNION (Worcestershire ,England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Observations (Hardcover)
I can honestly say that this book is unique! From the very first page Bessy became a real person. I felt as though I was reading her mind, with the rich descriptions and outrageous similies that Harris uses. Bawdy, yes, rude, no.
This book sensitively deals with themes that are often ignored in novels and therefore the reader is led to identify with a world that is mercifully foreign to many of us.Nevertheless, such painful lifestyles are experienced by people all over the globe.
This was a book that I found hard to put down and I was gutted when I finished it.Please bring back Bessy, Jane. We are desperate to find out what she does with her life!
I am awaiting more novels from this exraordinary author!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 24 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Observations (Paperback)
This is quite simply one of my absolute favourite novels.

Bessy is a tremendous heroine, one that will stay with you long after the ending (I finished it 4 years ago and recently picked of Gillespie and I in the hope that it will be able to reach these heights).

The factor which makes this book stand out from the crowd is, for me, the author's ability to make you feel as though you are living in the prose's time period. Not since Conan Doyle has an author made me feel as though I could see through the eyes of the protagonist.

I can't recommend this highly enough.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Enjoyable, 2 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Observations (Kindle Edition)
This was my first Kindle book and initially I thought I had made a mistake with my purchase. However after the first 2 chapters I found that the book took shape and I was intrigued to find out how the characters developed. Bessie is an interesting character and her humour combined with her sensitivity makes the book a compelling read.
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The Observations
The Observations by Jane Harris (Paperback - 1 Feb 2007)
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