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
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 July 2006, and has been updated for the July 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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