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.
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).
A confident, fresh, roguishly charming first work.
The Guardian - Liz Hoggard
Refreshingly, the main arc of the book isn't a romance. Bessy, we sense, has already had a lifetime of sex. What she craves is understanding. In many ways, the novel is about the act of writing - and the escape it represents for women. When Arabella first asks her maid about her thoughts, Bessy writes in her diary, half-scandalised, half-thrilled: 'What are you thinking of? What a thing to say. In my entire life, nobody had ever asked me such a question.'
The Independent - Catherine Taylor
As the title implies, this is a book about watching and being watched, writing and being written about..... The supreme controller of this sumptuous narrative is Bessy herself, arch manipulator to the end, as she - and Harris - effortlessly show how compelling a rattling good story can be.
Bessy Buckley can hold her head up with Moll Flanders and Becky Sharp as a living, breathing mortal .. her speech is is peppered with happy similes, drawn from the slums of Dublin and Glasgow .. What one takes away is Bessy Buckley's earthy voice, clear as a bell, ringing out her tale of love, loss and redemption.
The Observer (UK)
Harris is already being spoken about in the same breath as Sarah Waters and Michel Faber. In Bessy, she has created a bawdy, picaresque character who holds our attention for more than 400 pages. The Observations combines the best qualities of literary fiction with page-turning accessibility.
Sunday Herald (Glasgow)
I wept at the end of this brilliant first novel because I was so moved at the way Jane Harris sustains the vivacity, eloquence and pathos of her tale. Comparisons might well be made with Michel Faber and other writers who have turned to the Victorian cat's cradle of social and sexual tensions for context. But Harris' exploration of this territory is unique, not least in the ebullience of the language that issues from Bessy Buckley's errant Irish tongue. Bessy is an unforgettable character .. her observations bring extraordinary verve and veracity to the novel .. These are Harris's raw materials: obsession, domination, transgressive love and above all sexuality, repressed and otherwise. Harris has distilled these themes into a superbly uncorseted evocation of life in Victorian Scotland that never falters.
Scotland on Sunday The Observations is an astonishing imaginative feat, brilliantly written in bravura, bawdy style ... Harris' richy comic, deeply touching novel is destined to be one of the publishing sensations of the year ... what makes it such a thrilling read is Harris' lively language and sheer love of words.
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.
In the list of source material for The
Observations, Harris cites The Diaries
of Hannah Cullwick, Victorian Maidservant.
For a time Cullwick
was maid-of-all-work for solicitor Arthur Munby and
for 40-years they conducted a clandestine love affair (eventually ending in...
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high.
A romp through the late 19th century chronicling the adventures - sexual and otherwise - of its beautiful heroine, Famke, from her childhood in a Copenhagen orphanage to her strange adventures in the American Wild West.
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