BOOK REVIEW: The Observations by Jane Harris

The Observations by Jane HarrisThe Observations
By Jane Harris
Completed September 11, 2011

The Observations is the story of young Bessy Buckley- a 15-year-old Irish prostitute-turned-maid who stumbles in to a Scottish manor called Castle Haivers. Escaping her past, she convinces the mistress of the house, Arabella Reid, to take her on as a maid, despite shady skills or references.  Bessy’s tenure begins very strangely as Arabella has unusual requests: Requiring Bessy to stand and sit with her eyes closed for long periods of time; requesting a cup of cocoa in the middle of the night, only to make Bessy drink it; and ordering Bessy to collect her thoughts in a journal that she must read to Arabella every evening.

Strange things are afoot at Castle Haivers, and with each turn of the page, the events get more unusual.  Soon, Bessy realizes she’s one of a long string of maids in Arabella’s past – and that one maid in particular, Nora, who was killed in a train accident, has left an indelible mark on the household. Bessy, out of curiousity and loyalty to Arabella, begins to piece together the mystery of Nora, and as she does, unravels tragedies that can’t be undone.

Bessy is a lively narrator with a sharp tongue and street smarts. She could be crass but harmlessly so. Despite her unsophisticated rhetoric, Bessy is a fabulous storyteller and observer of events at Castle Haivers. As she reveals the atrocities of her past, my heart went out to the poor girl, and Bessy became a character I kept rooting for, despite her many blunders.

The Observations could be downright creepy then light-hearted and humorous. Jane Harris is a magnificent writer, and she grabs the Gothic tradition with fierceness. I couldn’t get enough of Bessy’s narrative, and I often was rapt by the story. I highly recommend The Observations to fans of Gothic fiction – if you liked Fingersmith or The House at Riverton, you will love this book too. (  )


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle @ 1morechapter
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 08:22:48

    Oooh, this one looks good, Jill!!


  2. Amy
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 01:30:50

    This book sounds fantastic…a perfect one to read this time of year, too with Halloween right around the corner! Bessy sounds delightful and fun and Castle Haivers creepy. This is the first I’ve heard about this book and am so happy to have. Thank you!


  3. Marg
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 21:09:48

    I read this when it first came out and have fond memories of it! It is a pretty spooky read!


  4. nomadreader
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 01:14:06

    This one sounds intriguing. I read Chocolat years ago and liked it, but I haven’t revisited any other Harris novels. Thanks!


    • mrstreme
      Sep 16, 2011 @ 02:53:19

      Hi, Carrie: Actually you’re thinking of Joanne Harris =) of Chocolat fame. This is another gifted writer with the last name of Harris. If you like Gothic novels, then definitely give this one a try.


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