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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
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.
The Observations is a hugely assured and darkly funny debut set in nineteenth-century Scotland. Bessy Buckley, the novel?s heroine, is a cynical, wide-eyed, and tender fifteen-year-old Irish girl who takes a job as a maid in a once-grand country house outside Edinburgh, where all is not as it seems. Asked by her employer, the beautiful Arabella, to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts, Bessy soon makes a troubling discovery and realizes that she has fled her difficult past only to arrive in an even more disturbing present.
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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