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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.

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780062103215
List price: $10.99
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I picked this novel up in an airport bookshop hoping it would keep me so engrossed I wouldn’t notice the length of the flight. It seemed it would tick all the boxes – historical setting, a sense of mystery and it came from the pen of an author whose name I kept hearing though I had never read nothing by Jane Harris myself.The story reminded me of Willkie Collins’ sensation and mystery stories and is told at a similar fast pace. It’s narrated by Harriet Baxter, an elderly spinster who recalls a chance encounter 45 years previously with Ned Gillespie – a talented artist who we are soon informed, died before his fame was fully recognised. Harriet meets him again during a visit to the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888 – and quickly becomes close friends with the Gillespie family. Dark shadows hover over their somewhat Bohemian home as one of the daughters begins to behave in an alarmingly malicious way towards her sibling and other members of the household. And then Harriet finds herself propelled into a family tragedy and a notorious court case.The period atmosphere was convincing. Harriet’s recollections of the past come with lots of detail about houses, dresses, domestic routines as well as the atmosphere of the exhibition ground. Unlike many other novels with historical settings, Harris’ manages to avoid dialogue that feels flat and clunky with anachronisms.The key to this novel however lies not in what we are told but more in what we are not told. First person narrators in novels are frequently unreliable witnesses or interpreters. Harriet Baxter is a master of deception. She portrays herself as a generous-hearted person yet is prone to make waspish comments about the other women in the Gillespie household. She believes herself to be uniquely positioned to tell the truth about the unrecognised genius of Ned Gillespie and set the record straight about the events in which she was enmeshed as a young woman. But her approach is somewhat elliptical. She makes frequent dark allusions to tragedies yet to be revealed. ”If only we had known then what the future held in store,” she says early on. Harriet Baxter is such a master of hints and suggestions however that the only way the reader does in fact get to know what really occurred is by following the breadcrumb trail of those clues and by reading between the lines. By the end, you almost feel that you have to read it again for everything to fall into place.If I had a gripe with the novel it lay in the ending. It didn’t so much end as just seem to peter out as if it had run out of steam. I didn’t feel cheated because the novel had done exactly what I needed it to do – keep be engaged so I didn’t notice the cramped and confined conditions of my journey. But I did expect it to come to some form of a resolution.Now, with the benefit of a few months gap, I can see that instead of this being a weakness of the novel, it was in fact one of its strengths. Harris, like her narrator, is an arch manipulator, leading me through the labyrinth of her novel and making me believe that all would be revealed. But like Harriet Baxter, she leaves me to work out the truth.more
Hugely entertaining! The character of the first-person narrator remains entirely consistent throughout, which is a real tribute to the skills of the author. As other reviewers have noted, Harris's storytelling style is somewhat similar to that of Sarah Waters, another novelist whose works I've enjoyed.more
"Gillespie and I" is the best novel I've read this year and quite possibly, in a few years. I don't want to say much as the unfolding of events is the reading joy that lies within. I will, however, say that this is one nightmare-producting little number. Harriet Baxter will get under your skin in a way few literary protagonists will. I got the creepy crawlies a time or two and suddenly had the urge to not divulge anything personal to anyone I did not know well. The marketing is a little misleading in that the happy cover and blurb made me think it was a Jane Austen-esque romp through Glasgow and London, with reflections on a painter's life. Holy cow, was I wrong. This is a very intense psychological thriller that kept me both flinching and guessing until the end. Harris is a masterful writer, especially how she would take one set of facts and write in various viewpoints, all of which seemed logical and possible. I did not give this book 4-stars because the trial was a bit fake (but I'm an attorney and a harsh critic, so take that with a grain of salt). I've heard masterpiece floating around and I agree, this is one of the best reading experiences I've had in memory. Keep the lights on when you hunker down with it, but definitely give it a try. Highly recommended.more
This has had so many good reviews on LT. I should say to start that I didn't find it so mind-blowingly good as some reviewers but a very good read nevertheless. I read it quite quickly on the beach and I do feel that it would have been better read more slowly over a longer period. Certainly it warrants re-reading and I am quite tempted to do this in the not too distant future, to see what (if any) clues I missed to the development of the story.In 1933 Miss Harriet Baxter, a spinster aged eighty, looks back on her relationship with the Glaswegian painter Ned Gillespie. Told in a series of flashbacks to the 1880's, the main narrative is interspersed with the story of Harriet's issues with her companion in the 1930's (which may or may not be connected with the events of 50 years previously). Travelling to Scotland to see the Glasgow International Exhibition, Harriet becomes acquainted with Ned Gillespie's mother (who she saves from choking to death) and his wife. Invited to tea, she becomes intimate with his family and makes herself indispensable in any number of ways. But things are clearly not destined to run smoothly, as Harriet recollects in the first few pages what with all that silly white-slavery business and the trial, and what starts out as a seemingly light-hearted book gets progressively darker and darker in tone. Without giving away the ending, I can say that at first the events described did seem a little far-fetched, but the more I think about them, the more plausible they seem. I think that this is likely to be a book that stays in my memory for a long time,more
An excellent book - it kept me guessing all the way through and even now that I have finished it I am still not sure who the guilty part was! A very clever set of characters who are brought to life in all their splendour.more
Harris is a master at creating atmosphere, because I consider this book on par with the atmospheric Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Literally did not ant to put it down, though it was rather slow in the beginning I soon became consumed by the plot, the characterizations and the many twists and turns this novel took. At one point the author managed to totally shock me, which doesn't happen in very many novels, but this one took a twist I really didn't see coming. Glasgow and the exhibition in the late 1800's, the world of painting and the language used was splendid. This is a superb, psychological read and one that I really enjoyed.more
Although this is alternately told from 1888 Glasgow and 1938 London, the main story is the earlier one. Harriet Baxter recalls two years in the lives of the Ned Gillespie family.We know almost immediately that Harriet will prove to be an unreliable narrator and trying to see past her perspective to what really happened is lots of fun. 4½ starsmore
I have just finished reading "Gillespie and I" by Jane Harris and I have run to the computer to try to type in all of my varying thoughts on this spellbinding, lovely novel. I am currently regretting that I borrowed this from the library instead of purchasing it.I had read a few reviews of this book -- some raving, some scathing... I knew very little about the plot, as many of my favorite reviewers did not give too many spoilers away. I intend to follow suit in this review, as the surprises and plot twists were one of the best features of this book. That being said I will give my super-quick summary -- this is a beautifully written mystery cleverly disguised as a historical fiction novel.Harris' language is so eloquent and there were several times I had to resort to looking up definitions of rare words / expressions from the narrator. Our narrator (Harriet Baxter) is lively and well developed; her voice through much of the book is very intelligent, observant, sometimes judgmental and often highlighted with tints of humor. There are other very believable characters -- many characters are lovable, but a few are a bit harder to like. One or two I clearly loathed. I have to say that I loved Harris' use of foreshadowing. I felt I knew what would happen by her clues and hints. However, as I continued reading l was surprised at the turn of events. I have to say that descriptions of the second half of this book resembling a "roller coaster" are accurate! I was so riveted by the unexpected that I could barely concentrate on work today. **Truth -- I wanted to stay home and finish reading!!!I am amazed that Gillespie and I did not end up on the 2012 Orange Prize short list. Perhaps this tale -- which indeed has it's dark moments and leaves you wondering -- is not for everyone. However, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I found "Gillespie" to be: compelling, surprising, thought provoking, anxiety producing, sinister, humorous, sad, and beautifully executed.more
I’ve delayed writing this review for so long…I hope that it’s not your heart sinking that I hear. It’s just that I’m finding it difficult to write a review that would do this fantastic, wonderful, brilliant, cracking book justice. Everyone should read this book. Right now. Go. Do it.…So you need a little more convincing, eh? This book was long listed for the 2012 Orange Prize, but by some silly, silly error it didn’t make the shortlist. Completely inexplicable. This is the type of book you carry around reading while making vain attempts to vacuum the house. (Or perhaps that’s just me…) The plot has the kinds of twists and turns that a roller coaster would be jealous about. The characterisation is thorough, but with just a pinch of elusiveness to keep us guessing as to whether we’ve judged each character correctly. The atmosphere of Glasgow during the Exhibition is painstakingly recreated, as is the later scenes in London.The plot centres around Harriet Baxter, a spinster who decides to go to Glasgow post the death of an elderly family member. She enjoys the Exhibition and in an odd twist of fate, saves a lady from choking by dentures. There she is drawn into the world of the Gillespie family – Ned, the painter; Annie, his wife, their two children and Ned’s mother. From the start of the relationship, cracks appear to form in the Gillespie family. Sibyl, Ned and Annie’s daughter, is an eerie character, getting up to strange mischief. Annie begins to paint Harriet’s portrait, while Harriet becomes Ned’s champion. The building of the friendship, while a little slow, is imperative to what happens later. After a mysterious episode, the friendship is turned on its head and accusations begin to fly, with damning consequences for all involved.The narrative shifts from Harriet’s time to Glasgow, to as she writes her memoirs as an elderly lady in London. Harris is an expert in unfolding the parts of Harriet’s character slowly and delicately until the reader is never too sure of what is truth and what is fiction. The story of Harriet’s new assistant in London runs a lovely parallel to the downfall of her relationship with the Gillespies.You might think this sounds all a bit gothic, but Harris also treats us to some wonderfully funny characters such Ned’s mother Elspeth (who continually calls Harriet ‘Herriet’). There are some moving moments of friendship and the Harriet’s belief that she really, truly is doing the right thing keep the sinister moments under the covers.An absolute masterpiece. Now go and read it.more
Gillespie and I is one of those rare books where all those raving reviews? They are spot on.There are so many things I want to praise about this book. So let's start with the title - it's perfect. It's eye-catching, it inspires curiosity, and it's quirky enough to be completely unique.Then there's the cover - perfectly fitting the story, and - frankly, it's gorgeous. The color palette, the arrangement of symbols, it's all just plain perfect.Now.. the insides of this beautiful book..So many twists and turns, y'all. I loved, loved, loved where this story took me. Instead of a cliche love story, I got a fascinating mystery that involved absolutely no love story at all and it was so incredibly perfect. The style of narration kept me on the edge of my seat, and the twists - I'm not even joking I shivered right now because they are so delicious.I'm not much of a mystery lover, but I'll tell you right now - this is a book that would have me converting to reading the mystery genre full-time if more were like it.more
This is an excellent character study best read not knowing anything about the book. Just let it wash over you.more
Miss Harriet Baxter, in 1933, is writing her memoirs recounting events in 1888 when she traveled to Glasgow and befriending struggling artist Ned Gillespie and his family.This is a difficult book to talk about without giving spoilers, but I shall try. I've given only a bare bones account of the plot because the brilliance of the book is the way the story unfolds as Harriet narrates her story and how the reader's interpretations evolve in the course of the story. As I was reading, I was struck by the thought that in young adult literature a first-person narration means that you can get to know a character because you're in their heads and reading their thoughts while in adult or literary fiction, you actually know the character less. It's a good book to read slowly, partly because of the writing, but mostly because it's deceptively complex. I'm still pondering the book, not sure exactly how much I liked it, but at the same time I want to find someone who's finished it so I can talk about it.more
Harriet Baxter is an 80 year old woman living alone in Bloomsbury in 1933. As she nears the end of her life, and while she possesses a full mental capacity, she decides to write a memoir about Ned Gillespie, a brilliant Glaswegian painter who never achieved the fame he deserved. Harriet is a single and outspoken woman of good taste and independent means in her mid-30s, who travels from London to Glasgow to attend the 1888 International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. She is introduced to Ned after she has a remarkable encounter with his mother Elspeth and wife Annie, and she recognizes him from an art exhibition in London held several years previously. The two women befriend Harriet, who integrates herself into the lives of the Gillespie family, including their younger daughter Rose and her older, troubled sister Sibyl, along with Ned's overbearing mother and his secretive brother. She decides to lengthen her stay in Glasgow, as she becomes a somewhat awkward yet appreciated fixture in the Gillespie household. Sibyl exhibits increasingly strange and disturbing behavior, which strains the marriage and Annie's relationship with Elspeth, and culminates in a shocking crime that devastates the Gillespies and their new friend.The novel shifts between 1888 Glasgow and 1933 London, as Harriet tells her side of the events that surrounded the crime and its notorious trial and aftermath, in order to set the record straight. The action and tension build in both settings, as Harriet proves to be an increasingly unreliable narrator, which left this reader fascinated and on the edge of his seat until the final page.Gillespie and I is a devastating and brilliant accomplishment, with a deliciously unreliable narrator, superb and compelling characters, and a highly captivating story that ranks amongst the most enjoyable novels I've ever read. As other readers have mentioned, I wanted to start it again from the beginning immediately after I finished it, and its characters will remain with me for a long time to come.more
Usually I love nothing more than an unreliable narrator, but this book didn't work for me at all. I found both the story and the major characters tedious and tragic, and where's the fun in that? I resented the fact that every character I thought might turn out to be (relatively) interesting was promptly sent out of town. I found the characterization inconsistent (occasionally subtle but too often too obvious) and the tone frequently offputting. I will say that Harris is very good with historical fiction.more
Oh Jane Harris - you masterful storyteller. You captivated me with your debut novel, The Observations, to the point that I could barely wait to read your sophomore effort, Gillespie and I. I worried that you couldn't "do it again" - but as I delved into your new book, my worries quickly vanished. Oh yes, you did it again. And marvelously so.I don't want to give away too much of the plot because I don't want to spoil one thing for future readers. In a quick summary, the story is about Harriet Baxter, a middle-aged, unmarried English woman who takes up residence in Scotland during the 1888 International Exhibition. There, she befriends the artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family: his wife, Annie; Ned's mother, Elpsbeth; and Ned and Annie's children, Sibyl and Rose. As the story progresses, a terrible tragedy strikes the Gillespie family, and Harriet is thrust into the brink of it.As we learn about Harriet's life in 1888, Harris mixes in Harriet's narrative as an older woman, living in 1933 London. Harriet is writing her memoir but vexed by her live-in companion, Sarah. Why is Sarah so quiet? Why does she not talk about her past? Why does she dress head to toe in Victorian clothing when the styles are much more liberal?Gillespie and I is a book much like a roller coaster. The first half is full of foreshadowing, with small twists and turns that seem insignificant as you read them. Then, at the end of the first half, the story seems to stall a bit, but I liken it to the "scenic part" of the roller coaster ride - when you're up high and can enjoy the view before being plunged down at break-neck speeds. And the second half of the book is the downward plunge, and you're left holding on, turning each page, almost not believing what you're reading. When the book is over, just like a good roller coaster, you get off and contemplate going for another ride. You want to relive the whole experience and discover things you missed on the first ride.I've said enough - go get your copy of Gillespie and I and prepare for a literary ride that will leave you breathless, contemplative and thoroughly pleased.more
This was quite a strange book in that I quite liked the first half and could barely abide the second half of the book. The story is about a spinster London lady who decides to visit Scotland, the fatherland of one of her parents. She befriends and is befriended by a family living near her and spends a great deal of time with them. They have two young daughters, both very different from the other. Strange things begin to occur withing the household of her friends and finally the horrific kidnapping of one of the daughters comes about. Here is where the story got dicey for me and I shan't tell you any more as I wouldn't wish to ruin it for anyone wanting to read the book.The best thing about this book for me is that it is on the 2012 Orange Prize long list. I found it not to be very well written and the second half I found to be exceptionally boring. Another good to fair story poorly written, I guess would sum it up for me. I gave it 2 1/2 stars and guardedly recommend it. I am sure those of you who follow the Orange will wish to read it and I hope the majority of you enjoy it more than I did. It took me five days to read the thing and that is an anomaly.more
I’m speechless. Seriously, I don’t know what to say. If I say too much I’m going to spoil it for everyone. Because this is a book you’re going to want to read. As a matter of fact when I finished it I turned back to the first page and started reading again and, really, I could easily read it again. And I will some day because it’s the kind of book that you can read again and discover new and different things that you never noticed the first time through.Here’s what I will say: Harriet Baxter is a protagonist that will stay with me for a long time. She’s in my head like nobody’s business. I keep trying to shake her loose from my brain but she keeps hanging on. In the book, she’s an eighty year old spinster in 1933, writing her memoir about the time in 1888 when she befriended aspiring artist Ned Gillespie and his family.But that’s all I’ll say about the plot because above all this is a book of secrets, and trapdoors, and twists and turns and unexpected developments and the reader is soon feeling like a pinball, bouncing back and forth, up and down as the narrative skids along at veritable breakneck speed, until you don’t know what to think about anything you’re being told because, well, apparently, anything’s possible. The slyness with which Harris manipulates her reader and drags them along through the creepy narrative is nothing short of brilliant. Just as you decide that things must be one way, you find yourself spinning out of control as you find that things must be heading in another direction entirely.So go ahead, fasten your seat belt and get on the Harriet Express. You’re in for the ride of your life.more
Being a pretty rough and ready simple country boy my basic inclination would be to dismiss this dreadful book as "a crock of shite". However, as I recognise that I am not in the tap room of The Dog and Duck but in the more rarefied environment of LibraryThing I shall refrain from such coarseness and confine myself to remarking that I have seldom read such a farrago of self-satisfied, self-aggrandising pap.I can't believe that i wasted money, time and precious shelf-space on such bilge.more
Where do I start? This is a very hard book to review; it was fantastic, don't get me wrong. In fact one of the best books I've read - but to explain why is to give away too much. Ms. Harris is brilliant. She has created a heroine that is so multifaceted you run the gamut of emotions from like to out and out hate and back again before you are done with the book. Just who IS Harriet Baxter?Harriet, at the start of the book is a young woman who has lost her mother and has just buried her aunt. She is of independent means and so she decides to go to Glasgow for the great International Exhibition that is being held. While there she saves the life of Elsbeth Gillespie and ingratiates herself into the family. To what end?The book is Harriet's memoir as she writes in her dotage. She is "to set the record straight" about her time with "the artist Gillespie." But one wonders about her ability to discern the absolute truth from the Harriet truth. The story is told in a well constructed flashback/flashforward style that forces you to piece snippets of information together like a jigsaw puzzle. Never have I enjoyed a book more. Never have I puzzled over a book more. Never have I wondered at the sanity of a heroine more. And I am still thinking about her and I finished the book over a week ago. This book has serious pull. Oh, I will read it again and I suspect that I will find all manner of things I missed as I flew through it the first time.Do not miss the chance to acquaint yourself with Ms. Harriet Baxter. You won't be disappointed. Her times are fascinating, her story is thrilling and her life a conundrum. All manner of praise to Jane Harris for creating a character so complex and a story so rich in detail and human drama.more
Harriet Baxter is a mostly homebound elderly woman cared for by a live-in companion and writing her obviously biased memoirs. From the perspective of 1933, she looks back on her time in 1880's Glasgow, Scotland as a close family friend of artist Ned Gillespie and the rest of the Gillespie clan. She is convinced that Ned has never gotten the fame he deserves as an artist and she's determined that she is going to be the one to illuminate his short and tragic career. But as Harriet details her growing involvement with the Gillespies during that fateful time, the initial faint air of her unreliability as a narrator deepens and grows.Having briefly met Ned Gillespie at an exhibition in London, Harriet professes herself surprised to find his work displayed at the International Expo in Glasgow. And there the matter might have stayed if not for the fact that Harriet is fortuitously passing by as Elspeth Gillespie (Ned's mother) faints and swallows her dentures causing an airway obstruction. Harriet saves Elspeth's life and gains entry into the Gillespie family circle. She presents herself as helpful and caring and much appreciated by the family, weighing in on the issues facing them, Ned and Annie's eldest daughter Sibyl's deviant and disturbing mental state, Ned's sister Mabel's love life, the solution to his brother Kenneth's potentially embarrassing homosexuality, and so forth. She ingratiates herself into the family like a tick on a dog.Alternating her past and the growing connection with the Gillespies is her present day, set in 1933, some 40 years on from the events she is so keen to record. And yet the events of the past seem to be creeping up on her and driving her present. It is in her present day narration that the real measure of Harriet as a character is fully realized. There is no prevarication, no hidden ulterior motive, just Harriet laid bare, explained in ways she wouldn't want an outsider observer to see. She is starting to be certain that Sarah, her carer, apparently the latest in a long line of home helpers, is malevolent and wishes her harm.The tale is a well-written one, tense and just a little sinister beneath its facade of gentility and sweetly manufactured noblesse oblige. The plot rises from the domestic to the gripping, suspenseful, and chilling finale of Harriet's dealings with the Gillespies. Everything about the novel is atmospheric, tightly plotted, and minutely, meticulously wrought. The characters, all seen through Harriet's eyes, are barometers for the whole of the tale, well-rounded and dimensional only if they serve Harriet's story as such. Nevertheless, they are a compelling bunch, regardless of her self-serving portrayals, and the reader is drawn raptly into the Scottish Victorian art world and into the deviousness of the mystery. Question everything dear reader, and shiver a bit while you're at it.more
Why Gillespie and I was overlooked by the Booker judges this year I will never understand. It is, in my opinion, everything a Booker novel should be - challenging in structure, richly written, entertaining, and thought-provoking.Harriet Baxter is an aging English woman reflecting back on her life. In her present day, the 1930s, she is in her 70s, never married, living with a series of "companions". Her current "girl" (who is in her fifties) is rather odd, but the two women initially coexist with only minor problems.Harriet is writing her memoirs, focusing on her time in Glasgow in the 1880s, when she befriended the Gillespie family: Ned, a brilliant but overlooked artist; Annie, Ned's wife and another skilled painter; Elspeth, Ned's mother; and Sibyl and Rose, the Gillespie children. Walking one day through Glasgow, Harriet watches as an older woman falls and stops breathing. Having taken a first aid course, Harriet uses her knowledge to save the woman, whose dentures had slipped to the back of her throat, cutting off her air supply. This older woman, who turns out to be Elspeth, expresses her gratitude by calling socially on Harriet. Soon the Gillespies are an important part of Harriet's life, her greatest friends in an unknown city.Things run rather smoothly until Sibyl, the older Gillespie daughter, begins acting rather oddly. Vulgar drawings appear on the walls of the Gillespies' apartment, guests at a party fall ill after drinking the punch, and Sibyl's mental health is called into question. Then, tragedy strikes the Gillespies, and the second half of the novel focuses on a complex legal trial.The narrative frequently returns to Harriet's present, where life with her companion is steadily worsening. Past and present begin to collide, and Harriet's reliability is called into question.Gillespie and I is a complex novel full of detail. The characters are exquisitely drawn, particularly Harriet, who is one of the more compelling narrators I have come across in some time. Her ability to gain the reader's trust - much like she does the Gillespies' - ensures that the novel delivers surprise after shocking surprise. I never lost interest in this door-stopper of a novel, and I will watch for Harris' next novel with anticipation.more
I was lucky enough to win this copy of Gillespie and I in a competition (together with The Oberservations, also by Jane Harris), so it wasn't a novel I myself chose to read. Written by Jane Harris, Gillespie and I is an historical fiction novel, which is my favourite genre so naturally I was pretty pleased with my win.Ned Gillespie - of the title - is an artist, painting in Scotland in the late 1880s. Miss Harriet Baxter meets Ned Gillespie briefly at an art exhibition in London, and then several months later, meets his mother and wife in Scotland, and becomes a friend of the family.The book is narrated by Harriet - now in her late 70s being looked after by a carer - reflecting on her friendship with the Gillespie family.The novel was moving along at a steady pace and with a fine amount of momentum, when the plot took a most unexpected course. In fact I don't think I could have been more surprised had Jane Harris reached from the pages and slapped me in the face herself! I had been suspecting the plot was gently building towards a climax centred around one of the family members, however I was completely caught by surprise, and I love it when a book catches you with your guard down.I won't reveal anything further though, because I don't want to give anything away, however it was a satisfying read; moving between the past and the present and unfurling Harriet's memories of events.I also enjoyed Harriet's chapters set in the present, where an air of mystery regarding her carer was unfolding, and her thoughts and behaviour at this age were very enjoyable to read!more
A story that steadily draws you in. Indepenent, single woman Harriet Baxter takes up residence in Glasgow and befreinds the Gillespie family where she shares in the highs and lows of their life. The people, place and atmosphere are all very well done. I thought this was a really good read - even though I'm still not too sure whether Harriet's association with the Gillespies was fortunate freindship or inveiglement ...more
This is a difficult book to write about - it would be so easy to give too much away. It's thoughtfully written and absorbing, and although I didn't find the narrator, Harriet Baxter, at all attractive, you are drawn into the events she describes very quickly - even if you don't much like her, you do feel that she's a competent person, witty and well-educated, someone you could rely on. Harriet, in her turn, is drawn into the lives of artist Ned Gillespie and his family and eventually, into the terrible events which befall them.The background to the book is the exhibition in a wonderfully described Glasgow, with its not-quite-bohemian artist's community, which masks a seedier, darker world which threatens Harriet and the Gillespies in unexpected ways. The insidious way in which bad things can strike at ordinariness is convincingly portrayed, and the descent into chaos is paralleled at the end of the novel. The denouement is unexpected and unsettling. I haven't read Jane Harris's first book, but on the strength of this one, I shall be doing so - her writing is both subtle and economical and keeps you reading. I like writers who can do place well, and she's one of them, but she handles the period and her characters equally convincingly. It's a book which stays with you.more
I had previously read The Observations by this author and, whilst I liked it, I was a little underwhelmed by it. I therefore didn't know how I would feel about Gillespie and I. I'm happy to report that I found it to be an excellent read.It's narrated by Miss Harriet Baxter, a spinster in her mid-30s who goes from London to Glasgow to spend some time there. She meets and spends a lot of time with the Gillespie family: Ned, an artist, his wife Annie, their young daughters Sybil and Rose, and Ned's mother Elspeth. They are an interesting family for Harriet and for me as a reader, and the first half of the book is really about painting a picture of the various characters (there are some other, more minor, characters too).The second half of the book is taken up with the criminal trial that is mentioned in the synopsis (so no spoilers there, although to say anymore would be a spoiler). I did find this section overlong, and think it would have benefited from being cut down, but it held my interest nonetheless. The ending was a bit strange, and I think I may have missed something from earlier in the story that would have been relevant there.Jane Harris has written Harriet's voice in such a way that I found myself smiling quite a lot at the things that she thought and said. She is certainly a very accomplished writer, and plotted this book exceptionally well.All in all, this is a really good read. It's a big book, but it never bored me, and it was quite a treat to read.more
Gillespie and I is a stunning work of fiction. It seems I'm one of the few people not to have read the first novel by Jane Harris, The Observations, and I'm not sure how I managed to miss that one as it sounds like something I would love. I'll certainly go back and read it now that Jane Harris has been brought to my attention.But this is a review of Gillespie and I. Or, I should say, Gillespie and Harriet Baxter. We first meet Harriet in 1933 as an elderly woman looking back on her life and promising to share with us her recollections of Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who was never able to fulfil his true potential. Harriet then proceeds to tell us the story of her acquaintance with the Gillespie family, whom she met in the 1880s during a trip to Scotland to visit the International Exhibition in Glasgow. She quickly becomes a friend of Ned, his wife Annie, and the other members of the family - but then disaster strikes and the lives of Harriet and the Gillespies are thrown into turmoil.After a leisurely start, the story soon picked up pace and became very gripping. But as well as the compelling plot there were many other things that made this book such an enjoyable read. I connected immediately with Harriet's sharp, witty and observant narrative voice. The other characters were vibrantly drawn, though the only one who never really came to life for me was Ned himself, which was the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent book. I also loved the setting. I've read many, many books set in Victorian London and it made a refreshing change to read one set in Victorian Glasgow instead.Halfway through the story something happened that made me start to question everything I'd read up to that point - and even after I'd finished the book I still had questions. I was very impressed by how cleverly Jane Harris managed to control what I believed and didn't believe at various points in the novel. I can't really explain what I mean without spoiling the story but suffice to say there are some stunning plot twists that leave you wondering whether things are really as they seem - and this doesn't happen just once, but several times throughout the second half of the book. At times it even felt like a Victorian sensation novel to me, which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much! Gillespie and I has been one of my favourite reads so far this year.more
Brilliantly written story of a spinster living in Glasgow who befriends an artist and his family. The story starts pretty sedately, but events take a turn for the worse, and by the end of the book you're not sure what you believe.Very well written, the characters are all very strong and the plot is excellent.more
Having enjoyed Jane Harris’s debut novel, I’ve been greatly looking forward to this one and it has not disappointed in any way. Written as a fictional memoir, the plot is set in two locations with different time-frames: 1880’s Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition and 1930’s genteel Bloomsbury. Harriet Baxter, an unmarried lady of independent means, travels to Glasgow following the death of her aunt. There she falls into friendship with an up and coming young artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family who live close by her lodgings. Harriet makes herself indispensable to the family - furthering Ned’s career, encouraging his wife and buying presents for their daughters, Sybil and Rose. The novel picks up a gear following the sudden disappearance of Rose, the youngest daughter, from a near-by park. A police investigation follows and subsequently a trial. It is at this point in the book that the reader begins to question the integrity of Harriet as a narrator, so much so that by the end of the novel the reader will have done a volte-face. It’s a brilliant piece of controlled writing and I, for one, loved it!more
I don't want to say too much about this book as I'm writing a review for Belletrista; I'll post the link when it becomes available.Like The Observations, Harris's second novel is a detailed Victorian psychological thriller/mystery set in Scotland. The narrator, Harriet Baxter, is a 30-something spinster who befriends a young artist and his family, and the story alternates between her recollection of the harrowing events of 1888 and her 'present-day' account set in 1933. Overall, an enjoyable read, although the conclusion left me scratching my head a bit and flipping back to earlier pages.more
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Reviews

I picked this novel up in an airport bookshop hoping it would keep me so engrossed I wouldn’t notice the length of the flight. It seemed it would tick all the boxes – historical setting, a sense of mystery and it came from the pen of an author whose name I kept hearing though I had never read nothing by Jane Harris myself.The story reminded me of Willkie Collins’ sensation and mystery stories and is told at a similar fast pace. It’s narrated by Harriet Baxter, an elderly spinster who recalls a chance encounter 45 years previously with Ned Gillespie – a talented artist who we are soon informed, died before his fame was fully recognised. Harriet meets him again during a visit to the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888 – and quickly becomes close friends with the Gillespie family. Dark shadows hover over their somewhat Bohemian home as one of the daughters begins to behave in an alarmingly malicious way towards her sibling and other members of the household. And then Harriet finds herself propelled into a family tragedy and a notorious court case.The period atmosphere was convincing. Harriet’s recollections of the past come with lots of detail about houses, dresses, domestic routines as well as the atmosphere of the exhibition ground. Unlike many other novels with historical settings, Harris’ manages to avoid dialogue that feels flat and clunky with anachronisms.The key to this novel however lies not in what we are told but more in what we are not told. First person narrators in novels are frequently unreliable witnesses or interpreters. Harriet Baxter is a master of deception. She portrays herself as a generous-hearted person yet is prone to make waspish comments about the other women in the Gillespie household. She believes herself to be uniquely positioned to tell the truth about the unrecognised genius of Ned Gillespie and set the record straight about the events in which she was enmeshed as a young woman. But her approach is somewhat elliptical. She makes frequent dark allusions to tragedies yet to be revealed. ”If only we had known then what the future held in store,” she says early on. Harriet Baxter is such a master of hints and suggestions however that the only way the reader does in fact get to know what really occurred is by following the breadcrumb trail of those clues and by reading between the lines. By the end, you almost feel that you have to read it again for everything to fall into place.If I had a gripe with the novel it lay in the ending. It didn’t so much end as just seem to peter out as if it had run out of steam. I didn’t feel cheated because the novel had done exactly what I needed it to do – keep be engaged so I didn’t notice the cramped and confined conditions of my journey. But I did expect it to come to some form of a resolution.Now, with the benefit of a few months gap, I can see that instead of this being a weakness of the novel, it was in fact one of its strengths. Harris, like her narrator, is an arch manipulator, leading me through the labyrinth of her novel and making me believe that all would be revealed. But like Harriet Baxter, she leaves me to work out the truth.more
Hugely entertaining! The character of the first-person narrator remains entirely consistent throughout, which is a real tribute to the skills of the author. As other reviewers have noted, Harris's storytelling style is somewhat similar to that of Sarah Waters, another novelist whose works I've enjoyed.more
"Gillespie and I" is the best novel I've read this year and quite possibly, in a few years. I don't want to say much as the unfolding of events is the reading joy that lies within. I will, however, say that this is one nightmare-producting little number. Harriet Baxter will get under your skin in a way few literary protagonists will. I got the creepy crawlies a time or two and suddenly had the urge to not divulge anything personal to anyone I did not know well. The marketing is a little misleading in that the happy cover and blurb made me think it was a Jane Austen-esque romp through Glasgow and London, with reflections on a painter's life. Holy cow, was I wrong. This is a very intense psychological thriller that kept me both flinching and guessing until the end. Harris is a masterful writer, especially how she would take one set of facts and write in various viewpoints, all of which seemed logical and possible. I did not give this book 4-stars because the trial was a bit fake (but I'm an attorney and a harsh critic, so take that with a grain of salt). I've heard masterpiece floating around and I agree, this is one of the best reading experiences I've had in memory. Keep the lights on when you hunker down with it, but definitely give it a try. Highly recommended.more
This has had so many good reviews on LT. I should say to start that I didn't find it so mind-blowingly good as some reviewers but a very good read nevertheless. I read it quite quickly on the beach and I do feel that it would have been better read more slowly over a longer period. Certainly it warrants re-reading and I am quite tempted to do this in the not too distant future, to see what (if any) clues I missed to the development of the story.In 1933 Miss Harriet Baxter, a spinster aged eighty, looks back on her relationship with the Glaswegian painter Ned Gillespie. Told in a series of flashbacks to the 1880's, the main narrative is interspersed with the story of Harriet's issues with her companion in the 1930's (which may or may not be connected with the events of 50 years previously). Travelling to Scotland to see the Glasgow International Exhibition, Harriet becomes acquainted with Ned Gillespie's mother (who she saves from choking to death) and his wife. Invited to tea, she becomes intimate with his family and makes herself indispensable in any number of ways. But things are clearly not destined to run smoothly, as Harriet recollects in the first few pages what with all that silly white-slavery business and the trial, and what starts out as a seemingly light-hearted book gets progressively darker and darker in tone. Without giving away the ending, I can say that at first the events described did seem a little far-fetched, but the more I think about them, the more plausible they seem. I think that this is likely to be a book that stays in my memory for a long time,more
An excellent book - it kept me guessing all the way through and even now that I have finished it I am still not sure who the guilty part was! A very clever set of characters who are brought to life in all their splendour.more
Harris is a master at creating atmosphere, because I consider this book on par with the atmospheric Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Literally did not ant to put it down, though it was rather slow in the beginning I soon became consumed by the plot, the characterizations and the many twists and turns this novel took. At one point the author managed to totally shock me, which doesn't happen in very many novels, but this one took a twist I really didn't see coming. Glasgow and the exhibition in the late 1800's, the world of painting and the language used was splendid. This is a superb, psychological read and one that I really enjoyed.more
Although this is alternately told from 1888 Glasgow and 1938 London, the main story is the earlier one. Harriet Baxter recalls two years in the lives of the Ned Gillespie family.We know almost immediately that Harriet will prove to be an unreliable narrator and trying to see past her perspective to what really happened is lots of fun. 4½ starsmore
I have just finished reading "Gillespie and I" by Jane Harris and I have run to the computer to try to type in all of my varying thoughts on this spellbinding, lovely novel. I am currently regretting that I borrowed this from the library instead of purchasing it.I had read a few reviews of this book -- some raving, some scathing... I knew very little about the plot, as many of my favorite reviewers did not give too many spoilers away. I intend to follow suit in this review, as the surprises and plot twists were one of the best features of this book. That being said I will give my super-quick summary -- this is a beautifully written mystery cleverly disguised as a historical fiction novel.Harris' language is so eloquent and there were several times I had to resort to looking up definitions of rare words / expressions from the narrator. Our narrator (Harriet Baxter) is lively and well developed; her voice through much of the book is very intelligent, observant, sometimes judgmental and often highlighted with tints of humor. There are other very believable characters -- many characters are lovable, but a few are a bit harder to like. One or two I clearly loathed. I have to say that I loved Harris' use of foreshadowing. I felt I knew what would happen by her clues and hints. However, as I continued reading l was surprised at the turn of events. I have to say that descriptions of the second half of this book resembling a "roller coaster" are accurate! I was so riveted by the unexpected that I could barely concentrate on work today. **Truth -- I wanted to stay home and finish reading!!!I am amazed that Gillespie and I did not end up on the 2012 Orange Prize short list. Perhaps this tale -- which indeed has it's dark moments and leaves you wondering -- is not for everyone. However, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I found "Gillespie" to be: compelling, surprising, thought provoking, anxiety producing, sinister, humorous, sad, and beautifully executed.more
I’ve delayed writing this review for so long…I hope that it’s not your heart sinking that I hear. It’s just that I’m finding it difficult to write a review that would do this fantastic, wonderful, brilliant, cracking book justice. Everyone should read this book. Right now. Go. Do it.…So you need a little more convincing, eh? This book was long listed for the 2012 Orange Prize, but by some silly, silly error it didn’t make the shortlist. Completely inexplicable. This is the type of book you carry around reading while making vain attempts to vacuum the house. (Or perhaps that’s just me…) The plot has the kinds of twists and turns that a roller coaster would be jealous about. The characterisation is thorough, but with just a pinch of elusiveness to keep us guessing as to whether we’ve judged each character correctly. The atmosphere of Glasgow during the Exhibition is painstakingly recreated, as is the later scenes in London.The plot centres around Harriet Baxter, a spinster who decides to go to Glasgow post the death of an elderly family member. She enjoys the Exhibition and in an odd twist of fate, saves a lady from choking by dentures. There she is drawn into the world of the Gillespie family – Ned, the painter; Annie, his wife, their two children and Ned’s mother. From the start of the relationship, cracks appear to form in the Gillespie family. Sibyl, Ned and Annie’s daughter, is an eerie character, getting up to strange mischief. Annie begins to paint Harriet’s portrait, while Harriet becomes Ned’s champion. The building of the friendship, while a little slow, is imperative to what happens later. After a mysterious episode, the friendship is turned on its head and accusations begin to fly, with damning consequences for all involved.The narrative shifts from Harriet’s time to Glasgow, to as she writes her memoirs as an elderly lady in London. Harris is an expert in unfolding the parts of Harriet’s character slowly and delicately until the reader is never too sure of what is truth and what is fiction. The story of Harriet’s new assistant in London runs a lovely parallel to the downfall of her relationship with the Gillespies.You might think this sounds all a bit gothic, but Harris also treats us to some wonderfully funny characters such Ned’s mother Elspeth (who continually calls Harriet ‘Herriet’). There are some moving moments of friendship and the Harriet’s belief that she really, truly is doing the right thing keep the sinister moments under the covers.An absolute masterpiece. Now go and read it.more
Gillespie and I is one of those rare books where all those raving reviews? They are spot on.There are so many things I want to praise about this book. So let's start with the title - it's perfect. It's eye-catching, it inspires curiosity, and it's quirky enough to be completely unique.Then there's the cover - perfectly fitting the story, and - frankly, it's gorgeous. The color palette, the arrangement of symbols, it's all just plain perfect.Now.. the insides of this beautiful book..So many twists and turns, y'all. I loved, loved, loved where this story took me. Instead of a cliche love story, I got a fascinating mystery that involved absolutely no love story at all and it was so incredibly perfect. The style of narration kept me on the edge of my seat, and the twists - I'm not even joking I shivered right now because they are so delicious.I'm not much of a mystery lover, but I'll tell you right now - this is a book that would have me converting to reading the mystery genre full-time if more were like it.more
This is an excellent character study best read not knowing anything about the book. Just let it wash over you.more
Miss Harriet Baxter, in 1933, is writing her memoirs recounting events in 1888 when she traveled to Glasgow and befriending struggling artist Ned Gillespie and his family.This is a difficult book to talk about without giving spoilers, but I shall try. I've given only a bare bones account of the plot because the brilliance of the book is the way the story unfolds as Harriet narrates her story and how the reader's interpretations evolve in the course of the story. As I was reading, I was struck by the thought that in young adult literature a first-person narration means that you can get to know a character because you're in their heads and reading their thoughts while in adult or literary fiction, you actually know the character less. It's a good book to read slowly, partly because of the writing, but mostly because it's deceptively complex. I'm still pondering the book, not sure exactly how much I liked it, but at the same time I want to find someone who's finished it so I can talk about it.more
Harriet Baxter is an 80 year old woman living alone in Bloomsbury in 1933. As she nears the end of her life, and while she possesses a full mental capacity, she decides to write a memoir about Ned Gillespie, a brilliant Glaswegian painter who never achieved the fame he deserved. Harriet is a single and outspoken woman of good taste and independent means in her mid-30s, who travels from London to Glasgow to attend the 1888 International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. She is introduced to Ned after she has a remarkable encounter with his mother Elspeth and wife Annie, and she recognizes him from an art exhibition in London held several years previously. The two women befriend Harriet, who integrates herself into the lives of the Gillespie family, including their younger daughter Rose and her older, troubled sister Sibyl, along with Ned's overbearing mother and his secretive brother. She decides to lengthen her stay in Glasgow, as she becomes a somewhat awkward yet appreciated fixture in the Gillespie household. Sibyl exhibits increasingly strange and disturbing behavior, which strains the marriage and Annie's relationship with Elspeth, and culminates in a shocking crime that devastates the Gillespies and their new friend.The novel shifts between 1888 Glasgow and 1933 London, as Harriet tells her side of the events that surrounded the crime and its notorious trial and aftermath, in order to set the record straight. The action and tension build in both settings, as Harriet proves to be an increasingly unreliable narrator, which left this reader fascinated and on the edge of his seat until the final page.Gillespie and I is a devastating and brilliant accomplishment, with a deliciously unreliable narrator, superb and compelling characters, and a highly captivating story that ranks amongst the most enjoyable novels I've ever read. As other readers have mentioned, I wanted to start it again from the beginning immediately after I finished it, and its characters will remain with me for a long time to come.more
Usually I love nothing more than an unreliable narrator, but this book didn't work for me at all. I found both the story and the major characters tedious and tragic, and where's the fun in that? I resented the fact that every character I thought might turn out to be (relatively) interesting was promptly sent out of town. I found the characterization inconsistent (occasionally subtle but too often too obvious) and the tone frequently offputting. I will say that Harris is very good with historical fiction.more
Oh Jane Harris - you masterful storyteller. You captivated me with your debut novel, The Observations, to the point that I could barely wait to read your sophomore effort, Gillespie and I. I worried that you couldn't "do it again" - but as I delved into your new book, my worries quickly vanished. Oh yes, you did it again. And marvelously so.I don't want to give away too much of the plot because I don't want to spoil one thing for future readers. In a quick summary, the story is about Harriet Baxter, a middle-aged, unmarried English woman who takes up residence in Scotland during the 1888 International Exhibition. There, she befriends the artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family: his wife, Annie; Ned's mother, Elpsbeth; and Ned and Annie's children, Sibyl and Rose. As the story progresses, a terrible tragedy strikes the Gillespie family, and Harriet is thrust into the brink of it.As we learn about Harriet's life in 1888, Harris mixes in Harriet's narrative as an older woman, living in 1933 London. Harriet is writing her memoir but vexed by her live-in companion, Sarah. Why is Sarah so quiet? Why does she not talk about her past? Why does she dress head to toe in Victorian clothing when the styles are much more liberal?Gillespie and I is a book much like a roller coaster. The first half is full of foreshadowing, with small twists and turns that seem insignificant as you read them. Then, at the end of the first half, the story seems to stall a bit, but I liken it to the "scenic part" of the roller coaster ride - when you're up high and can enjoy the view before being plunged down at break-neck speeds. And the second half of the book is the downward plunge, and you're left holding on, turning each page, almost not believing what you're reading. When the book is over, just like a good roller coaster, you get off and contemplate going for another ride. You want to relive the whole experience and discover things you missed on the first ride.I've said enough - go get your copy of Gillespie and I and prepare for a literary ride that will leave you breathless, contemplative and thoroughly pleased.more
This was quite a strange book in that I quite liked the first half and could barely abide the second half of the book. The story is about a spinster London lady who decides to visit Scotland, the fatherland of one of her parents. She befriends and is befriended by a family living near her and spends a great deal of time with them. They have two young daughters, both very different from the other. Strange things begin to occur withing the household of her friends and finally the horrific kidnapping of one of the daughters comes about. Here is where the story got dicey for me and I shan't tell you any more as I wouldn't wish to ruin it for anyone wanting to read the book.The best thing about this book for me is that it is on the 2012 Orange Prize long list. I found it not to be very well written and the second half I found to be exceptionally boring. Another good to fair story poorly written, I guess would sum it up for me. I gave it 2 1/2 stars and guardedly recommend it. I am sure those of you who follow the Orange will wish to read it and I hope the majority of you enjoy it more than I did. It took me five days to read the thing and that is an anomaly.more
I’m speechless. Seriously, I don’t know what to say. If I say too much I’m going to spoil it for everyone. Because this is a book you’re going to want to read. As a matter of fact when I finished it I turned back to the first page and started reading again and, really, I could easily read it again. And I will some day because it’s the kind of book that you can read again and discover new and different things that you never noticed the first time through.Here’s what I will say: Harriet Baxter is a protagonist that will stay with me for a long time. She’s in my head like nobody’s business. I keep trying to shake her loose from my brain but she keeps hanging on. In the book, she’s an eighty year old spinster in 1933, writing her memoir about the time in 1888 when she befriended aspiring artist Ned Gillespie and his family.But that’s all I’ll say about the plot because above all this is a book of secrets, and trapdoors, and twists and turns and unexpected developments and the reader is soon feeling like a pinball, bouncing back and forth, up and down as the narrative skids along at veritable breakneck speed, until you don’t know what to think about anything you’re being told because, well, apparently, anything’s possible. The slyness with which Harris manipulates her reader and drags them along through the creepy narrative is nothing short of brilliant. Just as you decide that things must be one way, you find yourself spinning out of control as you find that things must be heading in another direction entirely.So go ahead, fasten your seat belt and get on the Harriet Express. You’re in for the ride of your life.more
Being a pretty rough and ready simple country boy my basic inclination would be to dismiss this dreadful book as "a crock of shite". However, as I recognise that I am not in the tap room of The Dog and Duck but in the more rarefied environment of LibraryThing I shall refrain from such coarseness and confine myself to remarking that I have seldom read such a farrago of self-satisfied, self-aggrandising pap.I can't believe that i wasted money, time and precious shelf-space on such bilge.more
Where do I start? This is a very hard book to review; it was fantastic, don't get me wrong. In fact one of the best books I've read - but to explain why is to give away too much. Ms. Harris is brilliant. She has created a heroine that is so multifaceted you run the gamut of emotions from like to out and out hate and back again before you are done with the book. Just who IS Harriet Baxter?Harriet, at the start of the book is a young woman who has lost her mother and has just buried her aunt. She is of independent means and so she decides to go to Glasgow for the great International Exhibition that is being held. While there she saves the life of Elsbeth Gillespie and ingratiates herself into the family. To what end?The book is Harriet's memoir as she writes in her dotage. She is "to set the record straight" about her time with "the artist Gillespie." But one wonders about her ability to discern the absolute truth from the Harriet truth. The story is told in a well constructed flashback/flashforward style that forces you to piece snippets of information together like a jigsaw puzzle. Never have I enjoyed a book more. Never have I puzzled over a book more. Never have I wondered at the sanity of a heroine more. And I am still thinking about her and I finished the book over a week ago. This book has serious pull. Oh, I will read it again and I suspect that I will find all manner of things I missed as I flew through it the first time.Do not miss the chance to acquaint yourself with Ms. Harriet Baxter. You won't be disappointed. Her times are fascinating, her story is thrilling and her life a conundrum. All manner of praise to Jane Harris for creating a character so complex and a story so rich in detail and human drama.more
Harriet Baxter is a mostly homebound elderly woman cared for by a live-in companion and writing her obviously biased memoirs. From the perspective of 1933, she looks back on her time in 1880's Glasgow, Scotland as a close family friend of artist Ned Gillespie and the rest of the Gillespie clan. She is convinced that Ned has never gotten the fame he deserves as an artist and she's determined that she is going to be the one to illuminate his short and tragic career. But as Harriet details her growing involvement with the Gillespies during that fateful time, the initial faint air of her unreliability as a narrator deepens and grows.Having briefly met Ned Gillespie at an exhibition in London, Harriet professes herself surprised to find his work displayed at the International Expo in Glasgow. And there the matter might have stayed if not for the fact that Harriet is fortuitously passing by as Elspeth Gillespie (Ned's mother) faints and swallows her dentures causing an airway obstruction. Harriet saves Elspeth's life and gains entry into the Gillespie family circle. She presents herself as helpful and caring and much appreciated by the family, weighing in on the issues facing them, Ned and Annie's eldest daughter Sibyl's deviant and disturbing mental state, Ned's sister Mabel's love life, the solution to his brother Kenneth's potentially embarrassing homosexuality, and so forth. She ingratiates herself into the family like a tick on a dog.Alternating her past and the growing connection with the Gillespies is her present day, set in 1933, some 40 years on from the events she is so keen to record. And yet the events of the past seem to be creeping up on her and driving her present. It is in her present day narration that the real measure of Harriet as a character is fully realized. There is no prevarication, no hidden ulterior motive, just Harriet laid bare, explained in ways she wouldn't want an outsider observer to see. She is starting to be certain that Sarah, her carer, apparently the latest in a long line of home helpers, is malevolent and wishes her harm.The tale is a well-written one, tense and just a little sinister beneath its facade of gentility and sweetly manufactured noblesse oblige. The plot rises from the domestic to the gripping, suspenseful, and chilling finale of Harriet's dealings with the Gillespies. Everything about the novel is atmospheric, tightly plotted, and minutely, meticulously wrought. The characters, all seen through Harriet's eyes, are barometers for the whole of the tale, well-rounded and dimensional only if they serve Harriet's story as such. Nevertheless, they are a compelling bunch, regardless of her self-serving portrayals, and the reader is drawn raptly into the Scottish Victorian art world and into the deviousness of the mystery. Question everything dear reader, and shiver a bit while you're at it.more
Why Gillespie and I was overlooked by the Booker judges this year I will never understand. It is, in my opinion, everything a Booker novel should be - challenging in structure, richly written, entertaining, and thought-provoking.Harriet Baxter is an aging English woman reflecting back on her life. In her present day, the 1930s, she is in her 70s, never married, living with a series of "companions". Her current "girl" (who is in her fifties) is rather odd, but the two women initially coexist with only minor problems.Harriet is writing her memoirs, focusing on her time in Glasgow in the 1880s, when she befriended the Gillespie family: Ned, a brilliant but overlooked artist; Annie, Ned's wife and another skilled painter; Elspeth, Ned's mother; and Sibyl and Rose, the Gillespie children. Walking one day through Glasgow, Harriet watches as an older woman falls and stops breathing. Having taken a first aid course, Harriet uses her knowledge to save the woman, whose dentures had slipped to the back of her throat, cutting off her air supply. This older woman, who turns out to be Elspeth, expresses her gratitude by calling socially on Harriet. Soon the Gillespies are an important part of Harriet's life, her greatest friends in an unknown city.Things run rather smoothly until Sibyl, the older Gillespie daughter, begins acting rather oddly. Vulgar drawings appear on the walls of the Gillespies' apartment, guests at a party fall ill after drinking the punch, and Sibyl's mental health is called into question. Then, tragedy strikes the Gillespies, and the second half of the novel focuses on a complex legal trial.The narrative frequently returns to Harriet's present, where life with her companion is steadily worsening. Past and present begin to collide, and Harriet's reliability is called into question.Gillespie and I is a complex novel full of detail. The characters are exquisitely drawn, particularly Harriet, who is one of the more compelling narrators I have come across in some time. Her ability to gain the reader's trust - much like she does the Gillespies' - ensures that the novel delivers surprise after shocking surprise. I never lost interest in this door-stopper of a novel, and I will watch for Harris' next novel with anticipation.more
I was lucky enough to win this copy of Gillespie and I in a competition (together with The Oberservations, also by Jane Harris), so it wasn't a novel I myself chose to read. Written by Jane Harris, Gillespie and I is an historical fiction novel, which is my favourite genre so naturally I was pretty pleased with my win.Ned Gillespie - of the title - is an artist, painting in Scotland in the late 1880s. Miss Harriet Baxter meets Ned Gillespie briefly at an art exhibition in London, and then several months later, meets his mother and wife in Scotland, and becomes a friend of the family.The book is narrated by Harriet - now in her late 70s being looked after by a carer - reflecting on her friendship with the Gillespie family.The novel was moving along at a steady pace and with a fine amount of momentum, when the plot took a most unexpected course. In fact I don't think I could have been more surprised had Jane Harris reached from the pages and slapped me in the face herself! I had been suspecting the plot was gently building towards a climax centred around one of the family members, however I was completely caught by surprise, and I love it when a book catches you with your guard down.I won't reveal anything further though, because I don't want to give anything away, however it was a satisfying read; moving between the past and the present and unfurling Harriet's memories of events.I also enjoyed Harriet's chapters set in the present, where an air of mystery regarding her carer was unfolding, and her thoughts and behaviour at this age were very enjoyable to read!more
A story that steadily draws you in. Indepenent, single woman Harriet Baxter takes up residence in Glasgow and befreinds the Gillespie family where she shares in the highs and lows of their life. The people, place and atmosphere are all very well done. I thought this was a really good read - even though I'm still not too sure whether Harriet's association with the Gillespies was fortunate freindship or inveiglement ...more
This is a difficult book to write about - it would be so easy to give too much away. It's thoughtfully written and absorbing, and although I didn't find the narrator, Harriet Baxter, at all attractive, you are drawn into the events she describes very quickly - even if you don't much like her, you do feel that she's a competent person, witty and well-educated, someone you could rely on. Harriet, in her turn, is drawn into the lives of artist Ned Gillespie and his family and eventually, into the terrible events which befall them.The background to the book is the exhibition in a wonderfully described Glasgow, with its not-quite-bohemian artist's community, which masks a seedier, darker world which threatens Harriet and the Gillespies in unexpected ways. The insidious way in which bad things can strike at ordinariness is convincingly portrayed, and the descent into chaos is paralleled at the end of the novel. The denouement is unexpected and unsettling. I haven't read Jane Harris's first book, but on the strength of this one, I shall be doing so - her writing is both subtle and economical and keeps you reading. I like writers who can do place well, and she's one of them, but she handles the period and her characters equally convincingly. It's a book which stays with you.more
I had previously read The Observations by this author and, whilst I liked it, I was a little underwhelmed by it. I therefore didn't know how I would feel about Gillespie and I. I'm happy to report that I found it to be an excellent read.It's narrated by Miss Harriet Baxter, a spinster in her mid-30s who goes from London to Glasgow to spend some time there. She meets and spends a lot of time with the Gillespie family: Ned, an artist, his wife Annie, their young daughters Sybil and Rose, and Ned's mother Elspeth. They are an interesting family for Harriet and for me as a reader, and the first half of the book is really about painting a picture of the various characters (there are some other, more minor, characters too).The second half of the book is taken up with the criminal trial that is mentioned in the synopsis (so no spoilers there, although to say anymore would be a spoiler). I did find this section overlong, and think it would have benefited from being cut down, but it held my interest nonetheless. The ending was a bit strange, and I think I may have missed something from earlier in the story that would have been relevant there.Jane Harris has written Harriet's voice in such a way that I found myself smiling quite a lot at the things that she thought and said. She is certainly a very accomplished writer, and plotted this book exceptionally well.All in all, this is a really good read. It's a big book, but it never bored me, and it was quite a treat to read.more
Gillespie and I is a stunning work of fiction. It seems I'm one of the few people not to have read the first novel by Jane Harris, The Observations, and I'm not sure how I managed to miss that one as it sounds like something I would love. I'll certainly go back and read it now that Jane Harris has been brought to my attention.But this is a review of Gillespie and I. Or, I should say, Gillespie and Harriet Baxter. We first meet Harriet in 1933 as an elderly woman looking back on her life and promising to share with us her recollections of Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who was never able to fulfil his true potential. Harriet then proceeds to tell us the story of her acquaintance with the Gillespie family, whom she met in the 1880s during a trip to Scotland to visit the International Exhibition in Glasgow. She quickly becomes a friend of Ned, his wife Annie, and the other members of the family - but then disaster strikes and the lives of Harriet and the Gillespies are thrown into turmoil.After a leisurely start, the story soon picked up pace and became very gripping. But as well as the compelling plot there were many other things that made this book such an enjoyable read. I connected immediately with Harriet's sharp, witty and observant narrative voice. The other characters were vibrantly drawn, though the only one who never really came to life for me was Ned himself, which was the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent book. I also loved the setting. I've read many, many books set in Victorian London and it made a refreshing change to read one set in Victorian Glasgow instead.Halfway through the story something happened that made me start to question everything I'd read up to that point - and even after I'd finished the book I still had questions. I was very impressed by how cleverly Jane Harris managed to control what I believed and didn't believe at various points in the novel. I can't really explain what I mean without spoiling the story but suffice to say there are some stunning plot twists that leave you wondering whether things are really as they seem - and this doesn't happen just once, but several times throughout the second half of the book. At times it even felt like a Victorian sensation novel to me, which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much! Gillespie and I has been one of my favourite reads so far this year.more
Brilliantly written story of a spinster living in Glasgow who befriends an artist and his family. The story starts pretty sedately, but events take a turn for the worse, and by the end of the book you're not sure what you believe.Very well written, the characters are all very strong and the plot is excellent.more
Having enjoyed Jane Harris’s debut novel, I’ve been greatly looking forward to this one and it has not disappointed in any way. Written as a fictional memoir, the plot is set in two locations with different time-frames: 1880’s Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition and 1930’s genteel Bloomsbury. Harriet Baxter, an unmarried lady of independent means, travels to Glasgow following the death of her aunt. There she falls into friendship with an up and coming young artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family who live close by her lodgings. Harriet makes herself indispensable to the family - furthering Ned’s career, encouraging his wife and buying presents for their daughters, Sybil and Rose. The novel picks up a gear following the sudden disappearance of Rose, the youngest daughter, from a near-by park. A police investigation follows and subsequently a trial. It is at this point in the book that the reader begins to question the integrity of Harriet as a narrator, so much so that by the end of the novel the reader will have done a volte-face. It’s a brilliant piece of controlled writing and I, for one, loved it!more
I don't want to say too much about this book as I'm writing a review for Belletrista; I'll post the link when it becomes available.Like The Observations, Harris's second novel is a detailed Victorian psychological thriller/mystery set in Scotland. The narrator, Harriet Baxter, is a 30-something spinster who befriends a young artist and his family, and the story alternates between her recollection of the harrowing events of 1888 and her 'present-day' account set in 1933. Overall, an enjoyable read, although the conclusion left me scratching my head a bit and flipping back to earlier pages.more
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