Book Review: The Observations

The Observations

Jane Harris

Penguin

416 pages

What a fun book.  The Observations is the story of Bessy Buckley, fka Daisy.  You would expect Bessy to be a hardened young girl because although she is not even sixteen, she has lived beyond her years.  Bessy was originally prostituted by her mother until she is finally able to escape into the arms of an old man who becomes her beneficiery.  Unfortunately, after only a few years, her beneficiery dies, and Bessy must find somewhere else to go.  She refuses to go home to her mother for fear of being forced back into prostitution, so instead she finds work as a maid for Ms Arabella Reid of Castle Haivers.  From the start, Arabella had Bessy doing strange things, such as a repition of standing/sitting exercises.  She has hired Bessy only because Bessy is able to read and write–one of the conditions of her employ is that Bessy must keep a detailed journal of the daily goings on at Castle Haivers.  Bessy is curious as to Arabella’s motives, but goes along with the odd requests anyway, until she discovers in Arabella’s desk a manuscript called “The Observations”–apparently Arabella has been keeping a record of her female servants in order to publish a document that examines the lives and biology of servant girls.

Bessy is very hurt to find out Arabella’s true motives, because up to that point, she had believed that she and Arabella had a true friendship going on.  She ends up conspiring against Arabella in order to get revenge.  From then on, the situation got stranger and stranger–Bessy ends up losing control and the ramifications of her prank end up completely snowballing.

From what I have written so far, the average person would likely conclude that this is a dark and depressing book.  It certainly sounds that way, given the circumstances.  However, such was not the case with The Observations.  It was more charming and funny than anything else.  Bessy’s character was especially entertaining–given her age and her circumstances, she comes off as quite naive.  She had a grittiness about her but was, for the most part very comical.

There was no sign of any cook or maid, so I cut myself a slice of oat bread from the table and ate it and then I cut another one and started to eat that and while I was eating I cut a 3rd slice and tucked it down my frock between my two titties.  The bread lacked salt but I would have ate the snibs off the windows I was that hungry.  As I threw the bread into me, I was wondering how difficult can it be to milk a cow.  You grab the two dangler bits and pull, for dear sake I had seen it done manys a time as I had swanned about on market day only not close at hand.  I was a city girl, milk came in a pail and went in your tea, I did not even like milk, and now because of my own stupid pride I would have to squeeze it out a cow.

The above passage is only a small glimpse at Bessy’s indignant nature.  She is one of the most intriguing characters I have read in a long time.  The Observations is Jane Harris’ debut novel, but I hope not her last, because if this book is any indication of her talent, she will be a success.

Other reviews:

Eve’s Alexandria

I borrowed this book from my local library.
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5 Responses

  1. I’ve got this one on my shelf, and have had it there for quite some time! Thanks for this review, as it brought the book back to my mind. Will try to pick it up soon- I’m glad it is not as Gothic as it could have been.

  2. I had this one checked out from the library but just didn’t get to it in time. It sounds like a really good book though so I’m sure that I’ll be picking it up again at some point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  3. I’m really pleased to see that you enjoyed this one – I have a copy and haven’t got round to reading it yet. I think I’ll push it up the pile a bit!

  4. I am recommending this to book club. Sounds like something we would all like!

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