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The Observations

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  6,671 ratings  ·  717 reviews
A powerful story of secrets and suspicions, hidden histories and mysterious disappearances set in Victorian Scotland.

Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley—a wide-eyed and feisty young Irish girl—takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella—the "missus." Bessy lacks the necessa
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Viking Books (first published June 8th 2006)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  6,671 ratings  ·  717 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Mar 08, 2012 rated it liked it

The Modern Victorian Novel : a Scrummy dish for All the Family


½ cup Wilkie Collins
3 oz finely ground Sarah Waters
2 oz Crimson Petals and Whites
1 lunatic asylum
1 Railway disaster or if not available, a Coal Mine Explosion will do
3 or 4 Drunks and Uncouth Persons
A fresh bunch of Scullery Maids and Servants
1 Master
1 Mistress
1 Rambling Manse
2 Crowds
A large bag of hard luck
5 teaspoons of child prostitution
2 oz grated Freudianism
3 lb. meaningful dreams
Undercurrents of Lesbianism to taste
Ova - Excuse My Reading
This was quite an interesting read. The story started terribly exciting and promising but the second half was a bit disappointing. Maybe because I expected a surprise ending, found it a bit predictable. Still a great, gripping book but do not read with the expectation of a twist ending!

If you liked this you might also like The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

Scotland, 1863. An Irish young woman with a dubious past is unexpectedly taken on as a maid at a Scottish estate. The lady of the house has haunting secrets of her own, secrets whose consequences could lead to tragedy...

Sounds like the typical “Neo-Victorian” novel which has become so popular since the likes of Sarah Waters and Michel Faber burst on the scene. And in my ways it is. But unlike lesser imitations of Waters, Jane Harris' The Observations has a defining characteristic which sing
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
May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Someone with lots of free time
Although at times this was creepy, atmospheric and even funny, with nice character arcs for two main characters, it needed to be cut by at least 30%. For a book over 400 pp long, it wasn't really worth the time. At around 300 pp., it would've been a four star book, at least.
Diane S ☔
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Set in the mid 1800's in a rather dilapidated Scottish manor, related in a Gothic style one would expect this to be a very dark novel. Thanks, however, to the wonderfully humorous character Bessie the darkness has great periods of light. Her quirky saying and phrases are a joy to read. This is a slow to build novel and after 400 pgs. I was expecting a big reveal. That didn't happen and I was a little disappointed but glad I read anyway.
I had reason to leave Glagow, this would have been about three four years ago, and I had been on the Great Road about five hours when I seen a track to the left and a sign said 'Castle Haivers'. Now there's a coincidence I thought to myself, because here I was on my way across Scratchland to have a look at the Edingurgh castle and perhaps get a job there and who knows marry a young nobleman or prince. I was only 15 with a head full of sugar and I had a notion to work in a grand establishment.
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
1863 and Irish teenager Bessy Buckley, an intelligent, streetwise yet tender hearted girl, leaves Glasgow where she has had an abusive past, forced into prostitution at ten years of age by her mother, to make a better a life for herself and comes into the employ of Arabella Reid in a beautiful mansion named Castle Haivers near Edinburgh. she develops an infatuation with her glamorous but unstable mistress and is all to eager to please Arabella, who performs strange experiments on her. But this c ...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
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
Kate Forsyth
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Observations is such a delightful read! It tells the story of a girl named Bessy who takes a job as a maid-of-all-work in a gloomy country house in Scotland in the mid 1860s.

Bessy has a past she would rather forget, and so is grateful for the refuge her mistress Arabella offers her. However, she soon comes to realise that not is all as it seems in the house, and that an earlier maid has died in rather mysterious circumstances.

With naïve optimism, Bessie sets out to find out what happened, a

“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
Nov 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star
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! mys
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
 I loved the story and couldn’t put the book down until I was done. As I was reading I keep thinking of all these different things that would happen and even different ways it would end. So with all these ideas running through my head, you can imagine how disappointed I was at the ending. It was weird because the rest of the story was great, it’s almost like she just hurried up and finished it. The ending ruined the whole book for me.
Victorian sensation from the maid’s perspective...

Bessy Buckley may be young in years but her hard and sordid upbringing means she’s old in experience. Fleeing from her hometown of Glasgow in search of a better life, she finds herself more or less accidentally taking a job as maid at Castel Haivers, the home of Arabella Reid and her husband James, halfway along the road to Edinburgh. Arabella is young, beautiful and kind, and the affection-starved Bessy is soon devoted to her new mistress. But t
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, audiobook
Started out with a bang, and overall a great story. However, when the focus shifts from Bessy's clever observation of the people around her to more factual events, my interest waned a bit.

A very brief review for such a long book, but it's one where I wish to steer clear of spoilers. That having been said, I don't know as I "got" the ending as intended, but it worked well enough as a wrap-up for me.

The author's narration I found consistently excellent!
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.

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
Eve Kay
Life, especially with viruses shutting it down, is too short. Got to page 130/521 after which I skimmed abt 40 pages and could suffer no more. The author is too in love with her own writing and insists on writing in great detail when in fact the minute details have no meaning to the story or the characters. It's useless to explain a character's morning routine, every single morning, when it really adds nothing to the story anymore. You can stop doing that and stick to the events that matter to t ...more
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was another cracker from Jane Harris. Just like 'Gillespie and I', this is historical fiction set in Scotland, with a wonderful narrator.

Bessy Buckley is the memorable character telling the story. She takes a position as maid to a woman named Arabella Weir. Weir, known to Bessy as "Missus" throughout, has some strange requests for her new maid and as the story progresses we find that both characters have pasts that haunt them. (possibly literally!)

The Observations is intriguing, fun and som
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this account of the relationship between a maid servant and her mistress. Set in 19th century Scotland the story focuses on Irish immigrant Bessies (as we are introduced to her!).

Bessies irreverent attitude to life and her unusual turns of phrase combine to make her narrative compelling, hilarious and, at times, so, so sad. The story is truly unique and pulls the reader straight in. I highly recommend it.

I listened to the audio was narrated by the author. In the beginning I was
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Observations has turned out, quite unexpectedly, to be an incredibly pleasant read all-through. I hardly give novels 5 star ratings but taking into account the way this story has distinguished itself with such depth on multiple levels while being written in an ingenious writing style that evolves along with the novel and its protagonist, Jane Harris certainly deserves no less than 5 stars!
At first glance, this novel seemed like a comedy. The dialect comes through wonderfully as well, only ad
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011

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
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
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ruthiella by: Felice
"The Observations" is utterly compelling from page one. I could not put it down. Set in Victorian Scotland, Bessie is a 15 year old Irish girl who seeks safe haven as a domestic at an isolated manor in the countryside. But of course, everything is not what it seems and subterfuge abounds: a maid with a secret past, a mistress with a secret purpose and a miserly master with political ambitions. Why is it so important that Bessie be able to read and write? And what happened to the string of maids ...more
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jane Harris has created a wonderful character in Bessie Buckley, the narrator of this story. Bessie tells her story with wit, verve and a bawdy sense of humour but the more you learn about her childhood and upbringing the more you sense the sadness that underlies her brave outlook on the world and her situation. Endearingly, Bessie is always trying to learn from her mistakes and misjudgements but often finds her good resolutions just a little too hard to put into practice when it comes to it. As ...more
May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: victoriana
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 !!
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There is more than one author with this name in the GR database

Jane Harris was born in Belfast, Northern 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 Portuga

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