Across the Page: The First Person, The Sky Below, and Observations


The novel is divided into the different places in Gabe’s life — from his childhood home to the motel in Brewster to a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side to a commune in Mexico. Each place represents a transition similar to the Joseph Conrad collection boxes that later inspire Gabe as a student and artist.

In many ways, though, Gabe remains that young boy from the opening section of the book — a boy trying to find his way home. The last time he was able to feel fully present, it seems, was in his childhood house.

Now, as an adult, he embraces the identity of a drifter, struggling with whether or not he loves his boyfriend and his codependent relationship with his best friend. After receiving life-changing medical news, Gabe becomes more determined than ever to purchase a multi-million dollar brownstone he fell in love with in Brooklyn Heights.

Gabe’s plan is unrealistic and includes everything from blackmail to trying to get his wealthy boyfriend to lend him money. Eventually he lands himself in Mexico in search of his father and it is here that his childhood fantasies from Ovid begin to merge with his adult reality in complex and interesting ways.

The Sky Below is thematically very different from D’Erasmo’s previous novels — A Seahorse Year and Tea, which both feature lesbian characters — but it is equally engaging and thought provoking.

The Observations by Jane Harris (Penguin)

When Bessy Buckley, the irresistible and wry narrator of Jane Harris’s brilliant Victorian mystery The Observations, is hired as a maid at a rundown Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland, she is admittedly confused about why her mistress, Arabella, doesn’t seem to mind her total lack of domestic expertise.

Bessy, however, doesn’t press her luck. An Irish girl who’s just escaped a life of prostitution that began with her mother selling her virginity, she wants to make a new start for herself in Scotland. As it turns out, Arabella, who is working on a book about maids and servants, is more interested in Bessy’s loyalty and her ability to read and write.

Despite Arabella’s odd demands, Bessy gets the loyalty part down quickly as she becomes more and more enamored with her beautiful mistress. In her quest to learn more about the house’s former maid — a woman named Nora who Arabella loved and who was killed by a train accident — Bessy stumbles upon the book that Arabella is writing and discovers unflattering comments about herself.

Bessy is humiliated and enraged by her discovery. To get revenge, she plays a prank that leads Arabella to believe that Nora is either a ghost haunting the house or not dead at all. The prank takes on disastrous results for both Bessy and Arabella from which Harris weaves an absolutely gripping mystery.

In the beginning of the book, Bessy explains that she is writing this account for doctors interested in Arabella’s case. However, some of the more interesting sections of the narrative come when she deviates from this story and reveals her own past — a past which ends up effecting and haunting the present more than she initially realized.

If you like Sarah Waters or Emma Donoghue’s historic fiction, you will definitely enjoy Jane Harris’s The Observations.

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