28 Jun 2009

The Observations.

The Observations By Jane Harris.

Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her past, Bessy Buckley takes a job working as a maid in a big country house. But when Arabella, her beautiful mistress, asks her to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, Bessy begins to realise that she hasn't quite landed on her feet.

Arabella Reid, mistress to a succession of maids including Morag, Nora who was ' in many respects, almost the perfect servant and certainly knew what to do with a full stop ' and now Bessy, the new in-and-out girl, carries out a series of 'experiments' - for she has ' heard tell of distinguished and learned gentlemen who spend all night in their laboratories, mixing chemicals in vials and scrupulously recording the results of their experiments' - which she then records in her book, The Observations. It is when Bessy happens across this book that the adventures begin.

A debut novel, The Observations is original, warm, funny,well observed and full of 'real' characters. It is bawdy, full of intrigue and, at times, a social comment on how people lived in those times. Once started, it is difficult to put down.

Based around three very different women, all of them strong and, yet somehow, needy, The Observations is one story with several strands running through it.There blossoming relationship between servant Bessy and Mistress Arabella, then the much more fragile, at times abusive, relationship between Bessy and her mother Bridget. All three characters are very human and despite, maybe because of, their flaws they are all very likable. If only the same could be said of the far fewer male characters who do not fare nearly so well - much less likable, they come across as either weak-willed, mean and/or lecherous.

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