Set in Scotland in the 1860s, ‘The Observations’ by Jane Harris tells the story of Bessy Buckley, a feisty Irish girl who is taken on as a maid at Castle Haivers by Arabella Reid. Bessy has a number of secrets and is keen that her shady past doesn’t catch up with her. But it turns out that Arabella herself also has a dark history and her obsession with her former maid, Nora, who died in tragic circumstances, proves to be a catalyst for even more mystery.
Last summer, I read ‘Gillespie and I‘ which was also written by Jane Harris which I really enjoyed and I think that her début novel, ‘The Observations’, is just as good overall. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love unreliable narrators and Harris clearly does too having featured them in both of her novels. Harriet in ‘Gillespie and I’ was a little more subtle as a character but Bessy is also very convincing. She is very funny, sparky, blunt, cynical and sarcastic and she certainly has a mind of her own. Harris gives her character a really strong voice all the way through the story and it is Bessy who really brings this story to life. Her humour remains consistent even when the story takes some darker turns.
Harris’ storytelling is extremely vivid and the plotting was very clever, particularly the order in which certain bits of information were revealed to the reader. Like ‘Gillespie and I’, the suspense is built up very well, particularly regarding the nature of Arabella’s ‘experiments’ on Bessy but I did feel, however, that ‘The Observations’ lost a little bit of momentum towards the end as some of the elements of mystery were lost when more of the truth had been revealed. But overall, it was still a very enjoyable read which I highly recommend.