The Observations is only the fourth book I’ve completed this year, but I can already tell that it’s going to be one of my favorites for 2009. Set in the 1860s in “Scratchland,” (aka Scotland), the story follows young Bessy Buckley as she obtains employment (honest, this time) with “the missus,” Arabella Reid, at Castle Haivers, which isn’t really a castle at all. Arabella is a strange mistress, who has her maid-of-all-work keep a diary of her day-to-day activities. Later, Bessy discovers a book that Arabella is writing, called The Observations, and begins to wonder what really happened to the maid before her.
Without Bessy, this novel might be your typical Victorian ghost story. But she’s one of the most engaging heroines I’ve come across in a long time. Her personality fairly leaps off the page, and her witty, irreverent, brutally honest (and sometimes coarse) observations are entertaining, to say the least. The toilet humor of this novel might scare some readers off, though, but I thought that was one of the things that kept this book funny.
Bessy’s attitude towards her mistress is two-sided: on one hand, she feels affection towards Arabella, who she tries with all of her might to please; on the other, she bears a deep-seated grudge for her for the things she says about Bessy in her book. This conflict drives the course of the novel, causing Bessy to make a mistake that she will regret.
Admittedly, it took about a chapter or so for me to really get into this book; Bessy’s way of speaking is a little confusing at first. But the more I read, the more I got used to the style. In all, a very satisfying novel.
Also reviewed by: A Life in Books