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Review: The Observations, by Jane Harris

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


Sandra said…
I really liked this story too. Good review, thanks.
AC said…
This sounds really good and I'd never heard of the book before.
S. Krishna said…
Nice review, thanks!
Serena said…
sounds like a good book...Thanks for another great review!
Cathy said…
I really enjoyed this book, too!
Marg said…
I liked this book when I read it as well.
It was a really fun read. You are right about needing to get used to Bessy's dialect, though.
Kristen M. said…
I read this a year ago and unfortunately my book note only says "interesting premise but a bit odd". I know that I didn't love it but I can't remember exactly why -- something in the resolution? I have no idea. I don't remember most books very well after I move on. That's why I'm such a great re-reader!
Literary Feline said…
This does sound good! I will have to add it to my wish list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Alyce said…
I haven't heard of this one either, but it sounds like a lot of fun.
Teresa said…
This is one I've been thinking of reading for a while. I'm glad to see it's worth it!
valentina said…
it sounds really good,now I want to read it!
avisannschild said…
Sounds good and I really like the cover!

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