The Observations, by Jane Harris

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The Independent Culture

Victorian pastiche in the Sarah Waters mode, Jane Harris's latest novel, set in 1865, comes embroidered with lashings of hyperbole and gothic fancy. The novel's spunky narrator, 15-year-old Bessy Buckley, is on the run from a life of prostitution. She finds herself a job with Arabella Reid, the chatelaine of an estate outside Edinburgh. Asked to perform various bizarre tasks, Bessy is also asked to keep a journal. Her mouthy outbursts are part of the novel's clamorous landscape: "Hell's teeth, how can I explain the wretched despair I felt, except to say that my heart was banjaxed..."