A young Irish girl's compelling narrative

2008-02-01 00:00

THE Observations is Jane Harris's first novel and what a superb debut it is.

Set in Scotland in 1863, the tale is narrated by Bessy Buckley, a feisty young Irish girl with a past that she is desperate to escape. After fleeing Glasgow, Bessy, who lies about her housekeeping skills, is employed as an “in and out” maid at Castle Haivers, purely because she can read and write. But far from being the elegant country estate suggested by the name, the property is “a crumbling, drafty old wreck in a dismal landscape scarred by pits and with the stink of cows trapped under a leaden sky”.

Her mistress, the beautiful but mentally fragile Arabella Reid, has her own set of secrets and when she asks Bessy to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, the girl begins to realise that all may not be as it seems. Bessy's prying reveals that Arabella has not only discovered a great deal about her past as a child prostitute in Glasgow, but has also been using her to continue her research into the docile nature of the serving classes.

Bessy is the latest in a long line of domestic servants who Arabella has been observing. When Bessy learns that she compares less than favourably with a predecessor, the perfect Nora, this enrages her. In a fit of immature jealousy she plots her revenge, which has ghastly consequences that she could never have anticipated.

There's enough mystery and intrigue in The Observations to keep readers guessing, but it is Bessy's compelling narrative that makes this book a triumph. She is by turns bawdy and rollicking, then poignant and touching, and often very funny. However, it is Harris's skill as a writer and her ability to sustain Bessy's voice convincingly throughout which ensures that this is such a ripping good read.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.