Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Observations by Jane Harris

The Observations by Jane Harris was an interesting book, however, I am a bit irresolute about my feelings on it. In the beginning the story captured my curiosity, but as it went on, I found myself wondering if I should finish it on the grounds that some of the topics were more than I cared to think about. Alas, the curiosity won out as Ms. Harris leaves just enough out to keep you wondering what and why.

Bessie Buckley is a "housemaid" peregrinating to Edinburgh after her previous master has died of old age. As she is walking she comes to a country home where the lady of the manor is chasing a loose pig after recently letting her housemaid go. It was perfect happenstance. Arabella Reid, the Missus, quickly hires her, and, on explaining the chores that will need done, suspects that Bessie knows very little about keeping house. This idea is proved true when Bessie tries to use newspaper to clean coal off of the rug, making the mess worse. However, Mrs. Reid is a patient woman and resolves to teach Bessie not only how to do her chores properly, but also how to behave. The only thing she ask in return is that Bessie agree to write down everything she does, and her thoughts, in a little notebook that will be occasionally read by her mistress. It is not long however, that Bessie discovers things are not as simple as they seem when her Missus starts making odd demands. One night, irately waking Bessie from sleep, Mrs. Reid will demand a cup of hot cocoa be made only to nicely request Bessie sit and drink it. Another day, Bessie is asked to sit in a chair in the middle of the room and then stand up, then sit, then stand and sit repeatedly until she refuses to stand again, (and is then lavishly praised regardless of repetitions). Bessie can't begin to fathom the reasoning behind these request, but does them in an attempt to please the one person she has grown to deeply care for...and their begins a story ingrained with dissimulation, jealousy, selfishness, and redemption as we learn the truth, not only in Arabella's motives, but also behind Bessie's past.

In typing this out, I fear I've made the story sound much less than it is. Honestly, there is much more to it. Bessie's dependence is deeply rooted and comes from an unmentionably harsh past, and the peace she finds in its resignation is hard to imagine. It's a story that shows that when we finally come to a place of self-abnegation with those we love happiness can be found.

The Observations


seana said...

No, it sounds quite intriguing. There seems to be a mystery element to it. I hadn't heard of this one, and will have to add it to my list.

Glenna said...

Seana, I can't believe I found one you hadn't heard of...(I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing however). You're right though, there really is quite a mystery element to it on several different levels.

seana said...

No, it means nothing. A lot of books come across my radar, but there are still a lot that don't. I'll go put it on my Good Reads list right now so I don't forget it.

Glenna said...

Let me know what you is an odd one.