Title: The Observations
Author: Jane Harris
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: I had reason to leave Glasgow, 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 that said ‘Castle Haivers.’
Bessy, the 15-year-old narrator of Jane Harris’ The Observations, is one of the most interesting and quirky characters I’ve encountered in a long time. She has a shady past, and has left Glasgow and her mother in order to find work and make something better of herself. She comes across Castle Haivers near the small town of Slatter, and is hired on as the estate’s “in-and-out” girl.
The estate is not so much castle as a large farm, owned by James and Arabella Reid. Master James is a notorious skinflint, and so Bessy is hired to do the work that would normally require a housekeeper and two or three maids. In spite of that, though, Bessy takes the job, mostly because she is immediately taken with Mistress Arabella. Marm, as Bessy is instructed to call her, hires Bessy mainly because of her ability to read and write, and gives her an odd assignment. Bessy is to record her daily activities and thoughts and feelings in a journal for Arabella to read in the evenings.
That’s not the only odd thing Bessy is asked to do, and she becomes more and more curious about her mistress’s odd behavior. As she investigates, she uncovers a tale of that involves the ghosts of maids past, a mysterious death, and a whole slew of unsavory characters.
Bessy unfolds the story as she herself experiences it, and her unique voice and way of speaking endeared her to me as I read. I found myself laughing at some of the predicaments she found herself in, and also crying over the details of her unsavory past and the abuses that had been forced upon her at such a young age. But most of all, I wanted to find out what had happened to the former maid Nora, and why the mistress’s mind was coming “unhinged.”
This is a must-read for fans of gothic historical fiction.
This is a re-post of a review I wrote a couple of years ago.