Gillespie and I by Jane Harris: a Book Review

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris is a cleverly told story, narrated by Harriet Baxter, alternating between events in 1888-90 (in Glasgow) and those in 1933 (in London). In 1888 Harriet moved to Glasgow where she got to know the painter, Ned Gillespie and his family. At first I liked Harriet but as I read on I became increasingly doubtful about her character, even though she comes across as an honest, reliable person. But, as she relates what her life is like in 1933 my impression of her began to change.

All is well at first but than a tragedy occurs which forms the major part of the book. It’s signalled in advance, when Harriet refers to the ‘horrible events’ that lay in the future. To say any more would be too much of a spoiler.

The setting of the book in Glasgow of the late 19th century is well described, helped by plans in the front of the book. The characters are also convincing, even some of the minor ones and her portrayal of Ned’s disturbed daughter, Sybil is quite chilling. This is a very detailed book, both about the place, artists and, through the account of a trial, the Scottish legal system of that period. It’s a book that lingered in my mind after I finished reading and if it wasn’t so long I’d like to re-read it in the light of what I now know.

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 May 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0571275168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571275168
  • Source:an uncorrected proof from the publishers (via LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
  • My rating 3.5/5

I haven’t read Jane Harris first book, The Observations, although I’ve owned it for a while. It’s probably time I read that one too.

More Books

Two books were in my postbox yesterday. I’m very lucky because after deciding not to buy any more books until I’ve read 6 of my unread books these two are gifts, so I don’t have to count them, and I’m very grateful for them too.

The first is Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, which I won from Gaskella’s blog. The back cover says that it is ‘the story of a remarkable and unconventional woman, and of a way of life that has vanished for ever.’ Karen arrived in Kenya in 1914 to manage a coffee plantation and spent the happiest years of her life on the farm. I love the cover of this book.

The other is Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, an uncorrected proof, which I won on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Programme. This is a big book. It sounded so good from the publishers’ information – I just hope it lives up to my expectations.

As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame she maintains he deserved. Back in 1888, the young, art-loving, Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disorientate into mystery and deception. Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a tour de force from one of the emerging names of British fiction.

I love the cover of this one too.

Now I just need a few more hours in the day – I want to start reading these straight away. Actually I couldn’t resist and I have read the opening pages! They’re both looking good, but I have The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann to read first.