Release Date: February 2012
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction; Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Book Summary: From the award-winning author of The Observations comes a beautifully conjured and wickedly sharp tale of art and deception in nineteenth-century Scotland.
As she sits in her Bloomsbury home with her two pet birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter recounts the story of her friendship with Ned Gillespie—a talented artist whose life came to a tragic end before he ever achieved the fame and recognition that Harriet maintains he deserved. In 1888, young Harriet arrives in Glasgow during the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter with Ned, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in their lives. But when tragedy strikes, culminating in a notorious criminal trial, the certainty of Harriet’s new world rapidly spirals into suspicion and despair.
Infused with rich period detail, shot through with sly humor, and featuring a memorable cast of characters, Gillespie and I is an absorbing, atmospheric tale of one young woman’s friendship with a volatile artist and her place in the controversy that consumes him—a tour de force from one of the emerging names of modern fiction.
My Thoughts: Gillespie and I has a wonderful, rich and elaborate plot and offers a combination of many of the great elements in the best stories: it has a lovely, historical setting, a puzzling mystery, a riveting courtroom scene, it's psychologically tantalizing, it’s an entertaining drama, it’s frequently funny with much dark humor, and, finally, it’s shocking and creepy in parts. The book is well-written and reads quickly, the dialogue is realistic, funny and tantalizing and it’s filled with intriguing, irritating and delightful characters with some interesting quirks. Finally, the story is told by one of the most engaging, complex, and beguiling narrators who can also be quite hypocritical.
Harriet Baxter, the main character and the narrator of Gillespie and I is, now, one of my favorite characters. She is a bundle of contradictions, quirky, hilarious and delightful. The narrative spans more than 40 years providing the opportunity for us to experience Harriet as a young woman making her way in the world and then, when she’s a saucier elderly spinster, as intrusive and self-concerned as ever. She’s writing her memoirs and sharing them as she looks back on her life when she met the Gillespie family. It’s doubtful we can completely trust what she says but Harriet is, without a doubt, an arresting and gripping story-teller.
Gillespie and I is a book that must be read to truly appreciate what a captivating and entertaining story it is. Harriet becomes obsessed with the Gillespie family shortly after Elspeth, the mother of Ned Gillespie, and quite a high-strung, quirky character, invites Harriet into their midst. Harriet’s most fascinated with Ned and his burgeoning art career but tells us she enjoyed his wife, Annie, too, at least once she broke down her more formal attitude. Harriet manages to weasel her way into the family’s life, making her self indispensable to them. Whether or not Ned and Annie wanted Harriet around as much as she was, is anyone’s guess but Harriet says they did!
The narrative takes on a more somber and creepy tone when tragedy strikes Ned and Annie Gillespie. As they struggle to cope with every parent’s worst nightmare, there's not much room for Harriet in their lives or the time or interest to devote to her visits. A different side of Harriet is revealed at this time, a somewhat less attractive aspect of her character as she becomes a little distanced from the Gillespie family. But soon Harriet is permanently linked to the family in ways nobody could have predicted as the tragedy grows deeper and larger.
There are many twists and turns in this book and I was often surprised by the direction of the story. Harriet frequently hints about upcoming sections of her memoir, occasionally revealing some information out of sequence in her zeal to tell about her time with the Gillespie family. Much of the foreshadowing increased my curiosity in her story, making it all the more enthralling. The narrative has an informal, inviting style that’s easy to read and it moves at a quick pace. I was drawn into the story quickly and found it difficult to disengage myself when I had other things to do. Gillespie and I is a book I highly recommend to all readers of fiction. This book has so much to offer that I believe readers of varying interests will find much to enjoy about Gillespie and I. Jane Harris has a new staunch fan and I’m looking forward to reading her first book, The Observations.
For more on Gillespie and I and Jane Harris be sure to visit the author’s Website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Gillespie and I and to Harper Perennial for an ARC copy of the book.