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The Observationsby Jane Harris
2007 Winner of the Book of the Month Club First Fiction Prize
Synopses & Reviews
An extraordinary historical novel about a peculiar friendship between the mistress of a Scottish estate and her irresistibly appealing housemaid.
Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley — a wide-eyed and feisty young Irish girl-takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella — the "missus." Bessy lacks the necessary scullery skills for her new position, but as she finds out, it is her ability to read and write that makes her such a desirable property. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her mundane chores and most intimate thoughts. And it seems that the missus has a few secrets of her own, including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.
Giving in to her curiosity, Bessy makes an infuriating discovery and, out of jealousy, concocts a childish prank that backfires and threatens to jeopardize all that she has come to hold dear. Yet even when caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex, and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and raise the stakes even further, Bessy begins to realize that she has not quite landed on her feet.
The Observations is a brilliantly original, endlessly intriguing story of one woman's journey from a difficult past into an even more disturbing present, narrated by one of the most vividly imagined heroines in recent fiction. This powerful story of secrets and suspicions, hidden histories and mysterious disappearances is at once compelling and heart-warming, showing the redemptive power of loyalty and friendship. A hugely assured and darkly funny debut, The Observations is certain to establish Jane Harris as a significant new literary talent.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Though a first novel for author Jane Harris, The Observations is a confident work with a nuanced take on female ambition and self-definition through writing." St. Petersburg Times
"By turns funny and sad, but always true to the ear. And the sprightly, profane Bessy is a joy." Entertainment Weekly
"Bessy's unique, witty voice distinguishes this boisterous novel." Booklist
"A deliriously captivating tale of sex, ghosts, lies, and mysteries." Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
From an award-winning novelist described by Hilary Mantel as "one of those writers who can see into the past and help us feel its texture," the story of the exotic wife of a Scottish aristocrat who is not what she seems, set against the backdrop of the cultured drawing rooms and emerging tabloid culture of late Victorian London.
“A stirring and seductive novel.”—Economist
London 1887. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year to make something of herself. A self-proclaimed Chilean heiress educated in Paris, she is torn between poetry and the new art of photography. But it is soon plain that Maribels choices are not so simple. As her husbands career hangs by a thread, her real past, and the family she abandoned, come back to haunt them both. When the notorious newspaper editor Alfred Webster begins to take an uncommon interest in Maribel, she fears he will not only destroy Edwards career but both of their reputations.
Inspired by the true story of a politicians wife who lived a double life for decades, Beautiful Lies is set in a time that, fraught with economic uncertainty and tabloid scandal-mongering, uncannily presages our own.
In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy takes a job as a maid. Her "missus" demands Bessy keep a journal of her thoughts in this powerful story of secrets and suspicions, hidden histories, and mysterious disappearances.
About 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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