Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow,
Bessy Buckleya wide-eyed and feisty young Irish girltakes a job as a maid
in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabellathe
"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
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 womans 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.
My missus she often said to me, 'Now then Bessy, don't be calling me missus.'
She said this especially when the minister was coming for his tea.
My missus wanted me to call her 'marm' but I always forgot. At first I forgot by accident and then I forgot on purpose just to see the look on her face.
My missus was always after me for to write things down in a little book. She give me the book and pen and ink the day I arrived. 'Now then Bessy,' says she, 'I want you to write down your daily doings in this little book and I'll take a look at it from time to time.' This was after she found out I could read and write. When she found that out her face lit up like she'd lost a penny and found sixpence. 'Oh!' says she, 'and who taught you?' And I told her it was my poor dead mother, which was a lie for my mother was alive and most likely blind drunk down the Gallowgate as usual and even if she was sober she could barely have wrote her own name on a magistrates summons. But ...
A brilliantly spirited first novel set in Victorian Scotland that parodies the sensationalist fiction of the Victorian era - think Wilkie Collins with a dry and dark sense of humor.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (655 words).
According to The Victorian Web if a Victorian household could afford only one servant it would likely be a 'general' maid-of-all-work (usually a girl of 13 or 14) similar to the role Bessy takes on. Next would come a house-maid or nurse-maid, followed by a cook. Only once this female trio was in place would the first manservant be employed, usually with indoor and outdoor responsibilities, such as waiting and valeting and care of the horse and carriage. To maintain a household staff at this level would have taken about £500 in 1857. If more servants could be afforded the roles of the household would become increasingly more specialized - such as a dedicated ladies-maid, kitchen-maid, nursemaid, butler, coachman etc...
If you liked The Observations, try these:
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