“The Observations” by Jane Harris


I think this one is a case of the narrator making the novel because, the more I think about the actual plot, the more lackluster I realize it truly is. “The Observations” takes place in 1863 Scotland, and is told to us by a 15-year-old Irish girl names Bessy. She is escaping her difficult life in Glasgow for reasons that later become apparent and takes a job as a maid in a country house outside Edinburgh. The mistress of the house, Arabella, asks Bessy to keep a diary of her day to day life, and Bessy discovers she isn’t the first maid who’s been assigned this task, and that there’s a bizarre and tragic history involving the previous maids of the house.

There isn’t too much more I can say without giving away major plot points, but the story centers around Bessy’s attempts to discover what happened to the previous maids and her relationship with Arabella, though we also slowly learn about the past in Glasgow she was so eager to leave behind. The story was well paced, teasing out bits and pieces of information that got you guessing and kept the pages turning. However, for all the dark foreshadowing and hints of supernatural elements, the conclusion was astoundingly mundane. I felt kind of let down by it, honestly. Instead of a bang all I got was a whimper.

Bessy, though. Bessy’s voice totally saves this book. If it weren’t for her unique sense of humor, her equal parts innocence and vulgarity, I’m not sure this book would be worth the read. She’s straight forward, irreverent, hilarious, and the author manages to give the reader clear and evocative descriptions while maintaining the character’s personality throughout. I literally laughed out loud at several points, which is rare (my personal favorite part is when she decides to visit the grave of someone she believes is haunting the house to “raise objections at Headquarters”). What we have here a fairly entertaining story told in an exceptionally entertaining way. This was enough to make me enjoy “The Observations”, and I’m definitely interested in seeing more of what Jane Harris has to offer. I picked up her second novel, “Gillespie and I”, at a library sale this past weekend, and can’t wait to check it out.

That being said, it’s going to be awhile. I still have a pile of books left to read from the last library sale I came across, though I suppose having too many books is one of the better problems a person can have, right?

Title: “The Observations”
Author: Jane Harris
Published: 2006, Viking Penguin
Pages: 405
Would Recommend: Absolutely yes, such a funny book with a downright lovable protagonist. This book does include a couple depictions of sexual abuse and loads of vulgarity, though, so if this is an issue for you, you may want to avoid “The Observations”. Otherwise, definitely give it a shot.
Up Next: “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin


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