Review: The Observations

15 07 2007

I’ve just finished reading The Observations and I quite enjoyed it. The novel is told from the perspective of Bessy, a young woman trying to escape a not-so-innocent past, who ends up working for as the housekeeper or in-and-out girl at the remote Castle Haivers. Bessy is devoted to the mistress of the house, Arabella, who in turn seems to be unusually devoted to a former maid named Nora.

In some ways there seemed parallels to Fingersmith, but I don’t think the “twists” were equal to those in Waters’ work, though I think it would be difficult for many authors to equal what Waters is able to accomplish in Fingersmith. I found I liked Bessy and sympathized with her, though I must admit that I didn’t find her devotion to his mistress as convincing as I think was intended. I was better able to understand her motivation when she felt betrayed, rather than the love or fascination that Arabella seemed to inspire. I also found some of the other relationships a bit underdeveloped or used more as a means to an end, such as Bessy’s interaction with some of the farm servants. The ending as well provided a bit troubling to me, seeming a bit too pat with all the loose ends tied up.

I found when I was reading that I kept wondering where it could go. I could see there were 100 or 200 pages left and I kept anticipating where the author would choose to take the characters. In that way it seemed quite divided or episodic to me. Certainly the themes and relationships carried through, but there seemed very clear breaks in the story, which struck me as I was reading and I was always keenly aware of changes in direction in the way that doesn’t always occur with my reading.

What I found interesting – particularly since it’s been on my mind – is voice and narrative and the way in which all the different types of writing (and writing from different people) is incorporated into the story and how you get those different perspectives. The ending in particular, and Bessy’s revealing of her intended audience and her perception of how this will be received by that audience seemed a bit ironic to me, especially since Harris with Bessy’s describing how the manuscript of The Observations has been received and this brought to the forefront the issue of women’s writing and the role of women during the era in which the story is set. There is much made of observing and the recording of observations, but the ending also stresses how much is hidden and how much may continue to be hidden from view by those intended readers within the story.

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2 responses

15 07 2007
Dew

This sound like a wonderful book! I just added it to my wishlist this morning, before reading this, too.

17 07 2007
sparrow52

I hadn’t heard too much about it before reading it, but the cover attracted me – seemed kind of Jane Eyre-ish. I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it!

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