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BookBrowse Reviews The Observations by Jane Harris

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The Observations

by Jane Harris

The Observations by Jane Harris X
The Observations by Jane Harris
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 416 pages

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An astonishing imaginative feat, brilliantly written in bravura, bawdy style. First Novel

The Observations is 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). Bessy Buckley is on the road desperate to find a new position following the death of her former employer and before her dubious past catches up with her. A chance encounter with a woman and an escaped pig lands her with a job at run down Castle Haivers (on the outskirts of Edinburgh) as "in and out girl" for the beautiful Arabella.

Bessy has few skills as a housekeeper (her former employment having been spent predominantly horizontal rather than vertical) but her ability to read and write is what is of interest to Arabella, who is secretly writing a book detailing her observations of the various servants who have passed through her house and, as part of her research, makes unusual requests of her new maid designed to ascertain Bessy's levels of malleability and obedience. Arabella's alternating displays of affection and discipline prove addictive to the love-starved Bessy who, after a rocky start, becomes happy to do whatever the "Missus" requires of her; but when she discovers that Arabella is keeping secret notes on her and that she is haunted by the guilty memory of a former servant, Bessy is seized by jealously and concocts an elaborate scheme to take her revenge.

"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." - The Independent (UK).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2006, and has been updated for the July 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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