Gillespie and I Hardcover – 5 May 2011
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`An absolute belter.' --Bidisha, Saturday Review
`In Gillespie and I, Harris has pulled off the only too rare double whammy - a Booker-worthy novel that I want to read again.' --Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times
`A compelling, suspenseful and highly enjoyable novel -- but what stands out is the way in which this narrative provokes us to think again about what we imagine, and what we hope for.' --John Burnside, The Times
`Harris writes with a gorgeous delicacy and wit, and the richness of her vocabulary makes one aware of how impoverished that of many modern novelists is.' --Amanda Craig, Literary Review
`A chilling tale reminiscent of both Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Julian Barnes's Arthur and George.'
--Suzi Feay, Financial Times
--John Burnside, The Times
'Brilliantly plotted.' --Sunday Times
Gillespie and I is the eagerly awaited second novel by Jane Harris, author of the hugely acclaimed The ObservationsSee all Product description
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I often steer away from doorstopper books, but I am so glad I read Jane Harris’s second novel. An absolutely brilliant read.
The flashes of humour within Harriet’s recounting of events are sublime, some of the one-liners had me laughing aloud. The scene when Harriet saves Elspeth is wonderful and funny, whilst at the same time cleverly foreshadowing Harriet’s true motivation. But as the story moves on and as I began to realise the unreliability of Harriet’s memories (or were they?), as the story becomes the dark tale it really is, the story hooked me from a different angle.
Beautifully written and structured, from the very beginning Gillespie and I is a compelling page-turner, which is a major feat from the author who doesn’t baulk at giving the reader the full and complete story; the writing is so assured that the reader really does want to know everything, because we suspect every single detail is important, and it is, deliciously so.
This book is a masterclass in the art of creating the unreliable narrator. Magnificent.
Highly recommended and I cannot wait to read Harris’s first novel, The Observations, and her newly published third book, Sugar Money.
This was a slow-burner, and had I picked it up in a book shop, I would probably have put it down again. Thankfully it was selected for my local book club so I started reading without knowing anything about the story or even the genre and I'm glad I did as I found myself becoming quite absorbed in the lives of the Gillespie family as described by narrator Harriet Baxter. (If you haven't read other reviews, I'd recommend that you just read it and come back to the reviews later!)
Jane Harris weaves a very clever tale using the 'dual timeline' device - the reader quickly realises that the narrator is not reliable and in fact, things really are not at all as she would have them appear. From the outset I had lots of questions - What was Harriet doing in Glasgow? How much of the first meeting with the Gillespie women was co-incidental? Why did she become quite so involved in someone else's 'family life' when she was an independent single woman of means? What were her motives? Why the unsympathetic attitude to Sybil? Why "Gillespie and I" when it should have been "The Gillespies and I"? and so on... And of course I was trying to second-guess what on earth the terrible thing is that is alluded to throughout the vivid depictions of daily life could be (I was wrong!).
Without spoilers, it's fair to say that by the last third of the book I really couldn't put it down, although I found myself left with even more questions than were answered. For this reason the book would certainly stand up to a second reading, and I'm disappointed that the Xray function wasn't enabled on my Kindle edition as there are many things I'd have looked back on if it were.
I've given a rating of 4 out of 5 simply because I found the beginning to be so slow, and while I realise this maybe typical of 'Victorian' novels, it made it a bit of a slog at the start.
I loved this novel and I love Harris's writing.
As with her first novel - the story is narrated by one person in memoir format. It is 1933. Harriet Baxter is an old lady of independent means living in Bloomsbury. We gather she is feeling the effects of age. She needs help, but is dissatisfied with the girls sent from an agency, of whom the latest is Sarah.
In her parlour hangs a painting by a now forgotten artist, Ned Gillespie. Many years before, Ned and Harriet were close. Harriet is recording her memories of that time, the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888. Harriet is anxious to get the facts right so she often sends Sarah off to the library to check details of time and place. The novel then proceeds alternating between 1933 and 1888, but mainly the latter.
It is clear from the beginning that something terrible happened in 1888. Harriet tells us that Ned burnt virtually all his work. We also know there was a trial - Harriet references a standard text, Notable British Trials, very early in the book. Her memoir is to reveal to us what the "terrible" was exactly.
As Harriet herself says, God and the Devil are in the detail. The author uses little details to build up tension, malice and suspicion. You are never sure exactly where things are going but not to a good place, that's for certain. To say much more would spoil the reading experience.
The term "page-turner" is overused but not in this case. Significantly, only in the days after I finished it did some of the details make sense, eliciting that also overused but here deserved expression "Oh my God".