I thought this book was brilliant. 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.
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