Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

2006 was an excellent year for me as I read two of the most memorable debut novels, The Observations by Jane Harris and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  I’m not holding my breath re a new offering from Ms Setterfield but I can’t tell you how excited I was last year when I heard about Gillespie and I.   I had to put myself out of my misery, buy the hardback tout de suite and dive straight in.

Well, I can assure you that if you were even remotely titivated by The Observations, then you will love Gillespie and I.  Our narrator is 35 year old English woman, Harriet Baxter, who finds herself in Glasgow in 1888 for the International Exhibition.  Following the death of her aunt for whom she was full-time carer, Harriet comes into a modest sum of money and decides to move temporarily from London to Glasgow for a change of scenery.  The book takes the form of a memoir about her time in Glasgow which she writes in 1933, in London where she now lives on her own. attended by a series of carers, none of whom appear to stay very long in her employ.  We are fed little crumbs of information along the way which let us know that her time in Scotland does not end happily and that her initially halcyon relationship with the Gillespie clan, in particular, with Ned, the artist, is doomed to disaster.  However, as the narrative progresses, we realise that all is not what it seems and we might very well revise our initial impression of Harriet as a thoroughly objective observer.

I won’t spoil things by revealing anything more about the plot but suffice to say that Jane Harris has created a compelling, dark, psychological narrative which belies its benign facade.  Harriet isn’t quite the cute, fluffy puppy she’d have you believe!   The whole novel is a delight from start to finish, peopled with vivid, engaging characters from Ned’s interfering mother whose attempt at a posh accent results in Harriet being transformed into Herriet Bexter to Ned’s truculent eldest daughter, Sibyl.  Indeed all of the characters have their very own, distinctive voices and all have their role to play in this dramatic tale.   Such is the power of the writing that even a 160 page account of a trial continued to engage me and indeed I didn’t want it to end. 

Gillespie and I is one of those rare books which will remain with me for a very long time.  Its characters are extremely believable and although I’m not entirely sure if any of them are that likeable,  you certainly won’t forget them in a hurry.  It’s a carefully nuanced portrait of a family torn apart by tragedy yet it has its sublimely comic moments too – it’s been well worth the five year wait!

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5 Comments

  1. Susan (Mrs Mac) says:

    Hello Treez and thanks for that review. I’ve had The Observations to read for a couple of years now, so must bring it forward pronto! And then add this one to my wish list…. I always like a little bit of mystery to start a book off well!

  2. admin says:

    Susan, you must read The Observations, you’d love it!

  3. Helen says:

    I read this a few weeks ago and loved it! It’s one of my favourite books of the year so far. I haven’t read The Observations yet but after enjoying this one so much I’m definitely going to read it soon!

  4. admin says:

    Oh Helen, you must read The Observations – I almost envy you having the opportunity of reading it for the first time!

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