The Observations
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The Observations

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  3,982 ratings  ·  481 reviews
The Observations is a hugely assured and darkly funny debut set in nineteenth-century Scotland. Bessy Buckley, the novel's heroine, is a cynical, wide-eyed, and tender fifteen-year-old Irish girl who takes a job as a maid in a once-grand country house outside Edinburgh, where all is not as it seems. Asked by her employer, the beautiful Arabella, to keep a journal of her mo...more
ebook, 416 pages
Published June 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 2006)
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Review from Badelynge
The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, running away from a mother who has ruthlessly exploited her from an early age. She arrives at a ramshackle mansion, somewhere near Edinburgh, where she is taken on as a housemaid by the mistress of the house, Arabella Reid. The 'missus' as she calls her soon has young Bessy confused and bewildered by a succession of seemingly random and mostly pointles...more
"I was born Irish. But I'm more of the Scottish persuasion now." Bessy Buckley narrates with a direct, honest and often bawdily descriptive slang. She used to be something other than a maid as well. Quick on her feet and not one to give herself away unless absolutely necessary, she is starved for love and attention.

She meets Mrs. Arabella Reid, who is a bit of an intellectual and is at work on an interesting project. When the "Missus" learns that Bessy can read and write she decides to hire her...more
Tara Chevrestt
I LOVED Bessy, the narrator of this novel. What a character! Very gutsy, very outspoken, honest, and to top it all off, she has a sense of humor. The novel itself had an entertaining, mysterious plot. What seems to be irrelevant and unrelated happenings actually ends up being tied together in a bow by the end of the book. It did, however, have a rough beginning. The narration is shoddy and difficult to read at first. The reason is explained at the end and the reader actually realizes how very ap...more
A charming book (if you don't mind 19-century vulgar slang. Naturally, I love vintage slang.) & a very enjoyable one - it was actually fun to read. Engrossing in parts.
The narrator's voice enthralls from the beginning. It held me down for the first 300 pages or so before I was tired (mystery! mystery! mystery!) - I give most of the credit to the strong characterization of Bessy. In contrast, some of the other characters felt under-written - especially Arabella - which was a shame.
The ghost!...more
Judging by the plentiful positive reviews quoted inside and outside this book, the whole world seems to think Bessy Buckley is a brilliant creation, and I couldn't help but fall for the character too. The colloquialisms grated a little at first, but I was soon drawn in by the lively, spirited narrative. Bessy's own 'observations' are often laugh-out-loud funny, and her rebellious yet vulnerable - and altogether very human - voice is what brings the story to life and makes this a great read. I di...more
Non sono convinta, non sono convinta proprio per niente.
Essenzialmente per metà romanzo non succede nulla, nell' altra metà le cose vanno a finire in maniera così scontata da non aspettarselo...
La ricostruzione storica è decente, ma da qui a paragonarlo a Faber...
Spero che "I Gillespie" sia davvero molto meglio come dicono.
This book was comfortably skirting the 3 mark until the end, which was drastically disappointing.

The premise of the book was not overly original, the story of the relationship between a young maid with a secret and her mistress, also concealing a secret, in the Scottish highlands in the Victorian times. This novel would probably appeal to fans of Sarah waters Victorian lesbian fiction, but lacks the subtlety and characterisation to put it on a par with them. The book never quite takes the step...more
After reading Sarah Waters’ “The Night Watch”, the “Customers who bought this, also bought…” feature on Amazon recommended this.

The Synopsis intrigued me (I love me a good mystery/ghost story), so I decided I'd give it a try…

I waited for what seemed like ages for the book to make its way to one of my local bookstores and -failing that- I eventually went ahead and ordered it on-line. Maybe it was all the wait, or the brilliant 4 and 5 star reviews it got from other readers but I, somehow, expecte...more

My first real riveting read of the year; the first book to make me just want to keep going until it was finished, with as few interruptions as possible. The Observations is the type of book which makes you race to reserve their whole catalogue – I was gutted to discover it is her only novel, but I savoured it all the more for it.

The story is told by Bessy, Irish girl with a murky past and a smutty turn of phrase. She’s young and we join her on the run from a past life, already clearly a youn...more
This was a brilliant read.

Set in Victorian Scotland (West Lothian, near Bathgate, very near where I spent my teenage years) and narrated by a 14-16 year old Irish girl, The Observations primarily tells the story of the narrator Bessy's time working as a maid for the beautiful Arabella, her 'missus.' The Observations has lots of classic Victorian fiction elements in it - there's squalor, a ghost story, mystery and class tension - but at heart this is a story of powerful relationships between wome...more
Ellen B.
Jan 22, 2008 Ellen B. rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of the Victorian novel
I really liked this book at the start. It's written from the point of view of an Irish maid who goes to work in a (you probably guessed it) old, cold, lonely house. Initially her speech is really funny, with a wealth of very colorful expressions. Without giving anything away, the story is a bit of a mystery, but I'd more call it a thriller. I found the plot a bit predictable, and in the end I thought it a bit over the top. Definitely of the 'drama-hysterics-and-ghosts' genre of the Victorian nov...more
alessandra falca
Finalmente un libro dove vai avanti perchè vuoi sapere come va a finire, finalmente un libro dove il mistero ti porta a macinare pagina dopo pagina. Ci voleva. E forse è proprio questo che io chiedo ai romanzi: ritmo, velocità e storie da scoprire. Il primo libro scritto da Jane Harris, nata a Belfast, ha proprio tutte queste qualità, ed in più l'ambientazione nell'inghilterra vittoriana che per i miei gusti è perfetta. La storia è classica e non ve la racconterò. Vi basti sapere che ci sono tut...more
Well. The voice of the narrator was terrific, and kept me going for about 75 pages. Gradually, however, the plot simply began to wane, and the heft of the unread pages began to drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrag, until I skipped ahead to read the last 30 and called it done. I guess I'd have to say that the book simply lacks the oomph to drive the plot and/or the reader (aka ME) through 400 pages. Bessy/Daisy, sharp and funny as she is, deserves a sharp and clear plot with the same energy she possesses. 100 pag...more
Best fake 19th century biography of an Irish maid in Scottish mansion owned by a Lady nutjob who performs experiments on her, I've ever read. And spooky too. I love the main narrator's voice in this. Very compelling. You remember it from the serialisation on Radio 4. I did, about 4 pages from the end...after my Mum reminded me.
I loved this book so much that I'm actually sad that I no longer have it to read. THAT'S a book that deserves 5 stars for that reason alone. This story is so well written; the character of Bessy and her "voice" is flawless. It's hilarious, creepy, dark, mysterious. I could go on forever.
Could not put it down, made me smile and laugh while it moved me a lot all the same and made me wonder ....a great read when you enjoy " XIXth century like literature".
The female narator is quite a character !!
Gostei da capa e da sinopse deste livro, e as opiniões que tinha lido por aí davam-me esperança para que esta leitura acabasse por ser positiva. Fiquei contente quando o ganhei num passatempo na altura em que saiu e por isso foi com entusiasmo que encarei a perspetiva de o iniciar.

A história começa quando a adolescente Bessy Buckley decide rumar a Glasgow em busca de um emprego (e, quem sabe, um casamento) e no caminho, perto de uma pequena localidade, trava conhecimento com Arabella Reid, que l...more
The Observations is the story of a footloose and one step ahead of the law young woman named Bessy Buckley, formerly Daisy O'Toole. It's 1863 and Bessy is eager to improve her station and maybe to lay low for a bit as well. On her way to Edinburgh she comes across the once grand Castle Haivers. The mistress, Arabella Reid, hires Bessy as a scullery maid. Bessy thinks she has charmed Arabella into employment but maybe Arabella has an agenda of her own? Arabella spends her time secretly working on...more
Tracey, librarian on strike
3.5 stars. I think.

I'm not sure what to say about this book. I probably bought it (at a library sale, I believe) because the cover is gorgeous (despite being another Portrait of a Headless Girl), and it sounded worth a try. Which it was. I loved parts of it and hated others; in places it was exactly the sort of book my mind seems to actively fight against reading. One part of this was the dialect in which it was written: it is to be read as the warts-and-all, absence-of-apostrophes-and-all accou...more
The bawdy charm of Bessy Buckley, an Irish maid with a questionable past, makes this novel entertaining and unexpectedly funny. In fleeing Glasgow, she stumbles into a job at Castle Haivers working for Mrs. Arabella Reid, "the missus." Bessy has no experience as a maid; she lies, she steals, she drinks to excess, but she can read and write. Mrs. Reid requires Bessy to jot down her activities and thoughts in a little notebook and to perform seemingly nonsensical tasks. Despite her flaws, Bessy is...more

“The Observations” is an off-the-beaten-path type of novel, Jane Harris created a well written novel that still haunts me, as I finished the last page. Ms. Harris formulates a tale of mystery, psychological twister, a chilling-haunting, and murder that is interwoven with historical details and the great psychological pursuit and devices of its day. There are times, Ms. Harris, lets your imaginations fill in the details of the story- which makes you wanted her to fill it in herself because your m...more
Feb 23, 2012 Angie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angie by: Diana
This book kind of took me by surprise more than a few times.

I thought I had it sussed and then it took me somewhere I wasn't expecting to go with the plot. Initially I thought it a well enough devised Victorian melodrama, however the words of the narrator (a 16 year old Irish girl on the road, running away from a dubious life)soon begin to ring with humour, colour, devotion and natural curiosity. And so I was hooked.

I enjoyed the book straight from the outset with no warming up to the scenario r...more
I saw this book reviewed when it came out and added it to my list of "want to reads" but didn't get round to it until I recently went on holiday. I'm glad I waited until I had the time to read a lot at each sitting as I think that added to my enjoyment of the book.

A young Irish girl, who isn't always honest about her past, comes to work as a servant to a young wife in an isolated house near Glasgow. We see everything through her eyes, including her mistress, the absentee husband and local charac...more

On completions:This is primarily a crime/mystery novel. Usually when I read fictional crime novels I cannot but loose interest b/c I KNOW this is all just one big story; there is no reality to it. Well, not with this book. I found it thoroughly entertaining. A light, fun read. As I pointed out below, there are some sections, whcich I found a bit tedious. I did not enjoy reading the observations recorded by Bessy's mistress. They were in italics and too longwinded and boring! Thankf...more
Maria Grazia
I'm a bit sad this evening 'cause a had to say good-bye to a very good companion, a terrific one, who has filled in my repetitive routine with refreshing enterteinment. It's impossible not to be amused at listening to her singular idiolect and her humour is irresistible. I'm talking about Bessy Beckley, Irish but living in Scotland , only 15 years old but so experienced of the ways of the world. This extraordinary girl is ... the protagonist of the book I have just finished reading, THE OBSERVA...more
Jul 09, 2007 Jenny rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like historical fiction
I read reviews of this book that were strong, so I recommended this for my book club. I just finished it and I loved it! My rating may be a little high, but I loved the narrator, who had me laughing out loud often...when I wasn't cringing at what she had been through.

Structurally, this was a little of a mystery/ghost story. More of a mystery, really: who is the narrator? Why does her mistress place such odd demands on her? Where is her husband? What happened to the other maids? The author does a...more
Lisa James
This was a fascinating tale. Bessy, the narrator, we meet on the road when she is on her way to Edinborough to find a job. She stops at Castle Haivers & ends up taking the job the previous girl had just vacated. Arabella, the mistress of the manor, is a nervous little character, well educated for a woman of her time, & in the process of secretly writing a book about the behaviors of domestic servants. She seems to be fixated on the mysterious figure of Nora Hughes, a former servant girl...more
Beautiful! Harris' other work, Gillespie and I, is similar in writing style and plot structure, but the two characters couldn't be more different (beyond their general cluelessness).
Its rare to have an author writing heroines that are real, exceptionally flawed, and very likable all at once. The character drives the plot and she changes and develops so subtly, you won't notice it until she mentions it herself. You will not forget about Bessy (or about Harriet in Gillespie) very easily. These st...more
This book should only be read in its original language for the language itself is what mostly add value and entertainment to this reading. That is to say, the author wisely narrates the events as they are seen by the mind of Bessy, a young and barely taught maid, whose reports are sometimes very naive and other times and greatly cunning.
The ending is a bitter disappointment though, for it decidedly lacks the wits which characterize the rest of this story.

I'd have given it a better rating if it...more
Lady Strawberry
Il libro mi è piaciuto, nonostante un inizio un po' claudicante e un finale a mio parere un po' affrettato. Trovo, però, il lavoro della Harris molto buono sia nel tessere una storia avvincente, che strizzare l'occhio alla narrazione gotica e vittoriana oltre che alla riflessione femminista degli anni '70 che rivede l'espediente della donna pazza in soffitta (per maggiori info vi consiglio The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination di S. Gilbert e...more
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The Observations by Jane Harris 11 74 Mar 08, 2012 12:04AM  
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There is more than one author with this name in the GR database

Jane Harris was born in Belfast, Ireland and raised in Glasgow. Her short stories have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and she has written several award-winning short films. In 2000, she received a Writer's Award from the Arts Council of England.

She started writing by accident while living in Portugal in the e...more
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Gillespie and I

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“You see that one man will give a reward for the recovery of his tup, while another will only give thanks for the rescue of his wife. I suggest to you that one need not read the articles in the newspaper at all, for here - in the humble notices - all humanity is laid bare.” 1 likes
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