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Book Review: The Observations by Jane Harris

observe

5/5

The Observations starts on a dusty road in Scotland where a 15 year old Irish girl is traveling. The young girl, named Bessy Buckley, has just left her previous employer and is looking for new work. Her previous employer, the old Mr. Levy, has passed away, leaving his distant brother to handle all of the affairs of his estate, wealth, and his servants. Mr. Levy’s brother was none too thrilled to discover that someone from such a degenerate background would be mixed up in such a prestigious household. With no job and no home, Bessy’s initial idea was to head to the city of Glasgow to find work, but her plans come to a halt when she passes a house where a lady is chasing a loose pig.

Bessy is a character with strong curiosity that is, at times, relentless and is unable to ignore the situation. She helps the woman secure the rebellious pig into its pen. The woman, who introduces herself as Mrs. Reid, is very grateful for the help. She inquires about Bessy’s current situation. When Bessy explains that she is looking for work Mrs. Reid perks up. After asking a few personal questions such as inquiring whether Bessy can read and write, Bessy turns back on her way. Suddenly Mrs. Reid call for her to wait, she has a proposition for the young girl. She proposes that Bessy come to work for her as a maid. The two come to terms in regards to wages until Bessy agrees.

Working for Arabella Reid turns out to be an odd experience; and experience that Bessy was not expecting. On her first night, Mrs. Reid wakes up her new maid in the wee hours of the morning in anger. She barks at Bessy to meet her in the kitchen. Horrified that she had somehow done something wrong in the few hours had had been in the Reid home, Bessy quickly dresses and rushes into the kitchen where her ‘missus’ was sitting at the small table, waiting. Amazingly, her good nature has returned. It was as though a flip was switched. A few other events follow were her behavior was odd and as stunned as Bessy was, she couldn’t help but strive to please her ‘missus’.

On a rare occasion where both Mr. and Mrs. Reid were away for the evening, Bessy takes the time to do a little snooping. She had noticed that Mrs. Reid keeps a small key on her person and she has a hunch that the key opens a drawer in Mrs. Reid’s desk. Locked away in the drawer, Bessy discovers a manuscript entitled “The Observations”. She discovers that Mrs. Reid is writing a book on how to find the perfect servant. There are years of different types of research that Mrs. Reid as written about. Can a potential employer determine if a servant will be of high standards by just looking at physical aspects, such as the length of their arms or the turn of their nose? Baffled, Bessy turns to the last few pages to find out what Mrs. Reid has written about her. She is horrified to find that her section is entitled “The Most Particular Case of a Low Prostitute.”

Bessy Buckley is one of the most outspoken characters that I have ever come across. She has the spunk of a girl who has been through so much negativity and is unsure how to act around those who are wealthy. After being exposed to the raunchy acts of a streetwalker at the tender age of nine, by none other than her own mother, she has been forced to grow up without having the chance to have a childhood. She acknowledges that she had always known that her mother’s ‘profession’ was wrong and holds great shame of her not too distant past. Although those thoughts come from a character is mature, there are some instances in the novel where her young age shines through her tough exterior. After discovering that her ‘missus’ doted on a maid who was in her service before Bessy, she decides to pull some seemingly harmless pranks on her employer that take a turn for the worse.

The Observations by Jane Harris was a refreshing change from the last two novels that I’ve posted about. A novel filled with dark pasts, unhinged minds, and mystery make for an entertaining read. Written in her point of view, Bessy is an easily likable character and leaves the reader yearning to know what she will do next.