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Gillespie and I 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 DeservedBack In , 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 DeceptionFeaturing 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


10 thoughts on “Gillespie and I

  1. says:

    Caveat Lector I am including significant spoiler material in here You hae been warned When I began reading Gillespie and I, it was a bit of a compulsion Usually I have two books open at a time, one that I tote about with me and another that I dip into just before bedtime While reading Gillespie I used it for both, a rare event The format here is Harriet Baxter, an old lady in 1933, recalling events that had taken place over forty years past We spend the bulk of our time in the 19th century, with occasional interludes in 20th Century London, as Harriet writes her memoir.The 1888 version of Harriet seems a good egg I picture Anna Maxwell Martin in the role She is in her mid thirties, having spent her youth taking care of older relatives in London With the passing of the last of these, she has inherited enough to allow her to live decently without having to work She heads north to Glasgow at the time of the Great International Exposition In a chance encounter she saves the life of Elspeth Gillespie, the Gillespie family matriarch, and becomes a fixture in Elspeth s family Not least of these is Ned Gillespie, a young artist of considerable promise.The family is a mixed bunch Ned is married to Annie, an aspiring artist as well, and they have two daughters, the pretty and agreeable Rose and the probably sociopathic Sibyl Harriet becomes a frequent guest, practically part of the family, not only reveling in their company but eager to help out The Gillespies are not quite starving artists, as they own a small business and employ a maid, but as far as the local art world goes they are definitely on the lower rungs Harriet tries, in particular, to help Ned.Over time problems with the family emerge Ned s brother Kenny has a secret Sibyl keeps demonstrating that there is something wrong with her Annie and Elspeth are not the best of friends When a kidnapping occurs, family strains come to the fore When Harriet is accused of the crime, we have to wonder if there was something we missed Jane Harris image from The Irish TimesHarris tempers her less than lovely look at late 19th Century Scotland with a bit of levity She offers lightly comedic portrayals of Elspeth in particular, Ned s sister Mabel and Harriet s wealthy, but reclusive stepfather Ramsay These critical views of characters are via the eyes of Harriet, who, we see, is less than the one hundred percent proper British lady the world sees These are sufficient to generate slight grins but there is not a guffaw in sight Clearly the intent is to show us something about Harriet and not effect raucous laughter Harris offers less than complimentary views of reporters and the extant legal system as well For those looking for a bit of symbolism, 1933 Harriet names her greenfinches Layla and Majnum for star crossed lovers of Arab legend She also deconstructs the nests these birds make, shaking any eggs produced until they are no good What are we to think this reveals about her behavior so many years back Mary Shelley s Frankenstein is mentioned, encouraged by a reference to a relation in Switzerland Further, someone is framed for a small crime in the same way as happens in the older work Later, Annie imagines herself as a bird looking in someone s window, always an outsider, somewhat like the big guy Surely a single woman of independent means in 1888 Glasgow is by definition an outsider And Harriet s affection for the very married Ned makes her an outsider to romance as well Ned is also described as an outsider in the art world of Glasgow, echoing the theme Is there any chance for outsiders to work their way in, to acceptance And this being Scotland, there must be a bit of Calvinist predestination in the air Try as we might we cannot escape the inescapable we are all of us doomed to live out our destinies, like the servant in the fable, who hopes to elude death by fleeing to Samarkand, only to find upon his arrival in the town, that Death is there, waiting for him, after all Is everything pre destined Certainly the outcomes here seem governed by ungovernable forces Sibyl s behavior with her father may or may not be highly Oedipal Harriet s residence for a time is a place called Merlinsfield which certainly suggests something magical Another character has a Regan moment resonant of The Exorcist, but without the supernatural implications.Harris draws the reader in with her proper but charming Harriet and a lively extended Scottish family In addition, Harriet is a doer of good deeds, which certainly encourages our allegiance But I felt that the movement of the story all but ceased when Harriet was brought to trial Harriet in peril, after we have gotten to know her, can be gripping reading And yet, I found that much of it was not view spoiler I kept hoping that there would be a big reveal about Harriet, references to clues that Harris had planted earlier in the story to show us that Harriet was not what we supposed her to be But it was not to be, and thus the story petered out hide spoiler


  2. says:

    I read Jane Harris s debut, The Observations, a couple of years ago I thought it was very good, but nothing about it really suggested to me that the author would go on to write a minor masterpiece However, as soon as I started hearing good things about Gillespie and I, I had this feeling I was going to love it something to do with the plot synopsis combined with all the good things I was hearing about it the reviews here, so far, are overwhelmingly great and, of course, that absolutely beautiful cover design I really hope they don t alter it for the paperback edition The story is told by Harriet Baxter, an elderly woman living alone in London in 1933 She has begun to write a memoir about her acquaintance with a young Scottish artist, Ned Gillespie who she describes as a close friend and forgotten genius in 1888 The narrative occasionally revisits Harriet s present day , but for the most part, it concentrates on her memories of 1888 a time when, as an unmarried woman in her mid 30s, she was already sidelined as a spinster and enduring a difficult relationship with her stepfather, and came to develop an intense friendship with the Gillespies Ned, his wife Annie, their children Sibyl and Rose, as well as Ned s siblings and his comically overbearing mother Elspeth In the beginning, Gillespie and I reminded me of nothing than Kazuo Ishiguro s The Remains of the Day, and I saw Harriet as a female counterpart to that book s protagonist, Stevens The narrative has the same tone of ennui and regret, the same faintly nostalgic sense of recalling a life unfulfilled, the same suggestions of unrequited love it almost immediately seems quite apparent that Harriet nurtured, at the very least, an ardent admiration for Ned However, mid way through the story, the plot takes a completely unexpected turn and this is where writing my review becomes difficult, because if I give away the details of what happens, it will completely spoil the surprise for anyone who wants to read it, and this is a book I would undoubtedly encourage everyone to read Suffice to say, a series of unfortunate incidents plague the Gillespie family, culminating in a truly awful event, the aftermath of which will alter the life of every character involved Mirroring the build up to this climax, the elderly Harriet begins to have misgivings about her taciturn companion Sarah, which gradually escalate into severe, virtually hysterical paranoia Throughout both strands of the narrative, Harriet s unreliability as a narrator slowly becomes increasingly apparent I have read some truly great books this year this is my seventh five star review of 2011, and I can think of two or three worthy of four and three quarter stars but Gillespie and I is without a doubt my favourite so far, and a strong contender for my book of the year Am I being way too presumptuous if I say I hope slash think it will be at least longlisted for the 2011 Booker as well Edited 26 07 11 Yes Jane Harris wuz robbed Reading this book is like unwrapping a densely padded parcel at first, you think you ve got a pretty good idea of what it s going to be, but as different layers are peeled away, you grow less and less sure of what lies at its heart Despite everything, I loved Harriet, right to the very last page her unique, inimitable voice with its pedantic streak her admonishment of another character for saying red chester instead of register really made me laugh , her palpable loneliness combined with a conniving and manipulative nature, her dry wit and dark humour.This is an exquisitely crafted, blackly comic and utterly haunting novel I can tell the unsettling endings of both parts of the narrative are going to stay with me for some time, and I know I ll want to read the book again A fantastic achievement I can t wait to see what Jane Harris writes next.


  3. says:

    The success of Gillespie I is almost entirely due to its phenomenal narrator, Harriet Baxter exceedingly polite, utterly manipulative, the master of the backhanded compliment, and one of the loneliest characters I have ever come across She s the perfect example of a fictional person that you loathe so much you love, that you appreciate just for the meticulous character development The rest of the novel is excellent too, with a slow burning Victorian feel, and after you push through the somewhat dry first few chapters you won t put it down again Although there were a few twists and turns, I was expecting most of them probably due to reading with a suspicious eye after skimming various reviews , and although it probably took off a star, it still speaks to its strength as a complete and balanced novel rather than something you only remember because it completely sucker punched you.


  4. says:

    Are you in the mood for a delicious, lurid, butt kicking, hair raising, and guilt free reading experience Literary licks meets cinematic thriller You are here Press Go or run, not walk to your nearest book seller or library Grab a seat, speed dial food to go, call in sick, and let the babysitter put the kids to bed Ohand don t read the book blurb let yourself be astonished as you burn through this all consuming novel Once the first ninety pages or so go by at a casual clip, you will be pinned like a fly in a spider s web.Ever since I read Harris debut novel, THE OBSERVATIONS, I knew that I was in the hands of a first rate writer THE OBSERVATIONS, written in the patois of a Scottish scullery maid who narrates the story, takes you gradually on a sharp, twisting, dark tale As in this book, it starts out rather chipper and mannerly, like a book of habits and manners would do, replete with subtly braided social commentary and Dickensian characters And thenit seizes you by the throat In GILLESPIE, it also starts out decorous and Jane Austen like The territory then morphs to something like Poe Both books are what I would call sleepers As in THE OBSERVATIONS, this takes place in 19th century Scotland, this time in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh.I ll reveal the set up only Harriet Baxter, a British woman in her 30 s of independent means, befriends the Gillespie family of Glasgow in 1888 Ned Gillespie is an artist on the rise, but still struggling to make ends meet He lives with his wife and their two young daughters, Sibyl and Rose As the novel starts out, Harriet has saved the life of Ned s mother, a hovering gasbag, who has fallen down in the street Thus their friendship begins Harriet is narrating the story of their friendship, and Ned s ultimate suicide this is revealed on the first page , as Harriet says Who is left to tell the tale Ned Gillespie artist, innovator, and forgotten genius my dear friend and soul mate Harriet is writing her memoir from her home in Bloomsbury, in 1933 She is now 75 years old, and seems lonely but proud, living in the house with her two beloved finches and an assistant to help with household tasks.There are a few courtroom scenes that are a bit loose, at least as far as my understanding of legal proceedings, witness examination, and cross examination But these are minor irritations, and don t spoil the story Moreover, I am no expert in 19th century Scottish law.So, find a comfortable spot and settle in for a wild ride Something along the lines of Jane Austen that either skyrockets or plunges into the Bad Seed And then some It is tart, tangy, and eventually adrenaline fueling Don t let the 500 pages daunt you I finished it in two days I was transfixed Jane Harris, you have done it again I don t understand why she isn t a celebrated author she is certainly a formidable writer


  5. says:

    Rating 2 The Book Report There isn t anything I can say that won t be a spoiler here The book description from says 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 I think even that is a bit than enough.My Review If my rating this book with an irrational, unknowable, eternally expanding number doesn t tell you everything you need to know about how I feel about the book, here it is in one sentence Massive amounts of fun on levels than amusing, fun to read books ordinarily have This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


  6. says:

    Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma which reading list to follow it up with Variety is the spice of life, so I ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously This book falls into my GIFTS AND GUILTY list.Regardless of how many books are already queued patiently on my reading list, unexpected gifts and guilt trips will always see unplanned additions muscling their way in at the front.If I didn t stick to certain rules, I would buy books far faster than I could ever hope to read them resulting in the sad, sad, fate of far too many good books languishing unread upon my shelves So I have rules that govern when I may buy a new book.I allow myself eighteen unread books upon my shelves at any one time Why eighteen Because when I look at my to be read shelf, here on goodreads, using the cover view, it shows them in rows of six So, three rows of books is a nice, neat pool of eighteen books to select from When I finish a book, I pick my next book from the pool of eighteen, and then I allow myself to buy another book normally ordered from second hand, that very minute.Again, I have my rules The second tier shelf is to buy these are the books I d have already ordered by now if I wasn t sticking to the rules Again, I keep it stocked at eighteen books for the same reason, it s a good sized pool to select from and looks nice and neat on my screen I m aware I m a bit OCD about this, no need to comment We have two shelves to the system the wanted shelf, which I keep a little larger thirty books from which I promote one up to the to buy shelf whenever I have just ordered a book Finally there s my long list shelf, which covers everything else I d like to get hold of, and from which I promote a single book up to the wanted shelf whenever an opening arises.So you see, I have this nice co ordinated system of tiered book buying, and whenever I finish a book it results in cascading promotions, which I love, because although I only actually buy one new book there s another two which take a step closer to getting ordered.Which is why gifts and borrowed books are such a pest Don t get me wrong, I love books and I love being given books but they barge straight into the top shelf of the system, often making it overflow past the magic eighteen, and I m forced to delay buying the books I actually wanted to get until I ve read enough books to open that space back up Since I did a tidy up of outstanding unread books after moving house, my to be read shelf has been dominated by those books I ve had borrowed bought gifted This is not ideal, so I ve been pushing hard to get some of those cleared off, so I can fill those slots with the sci fi fantasy novels on my reading list Gillespie and I was a present from my Mum I m not entirely sure why she got it for me, she s never read anything by Jane Harris before and she knows exactly what kind of books I love it was my Mum who got me started on Peter Hamilton, Dan Simmons and David Mitchell so I m pretty sure it was on a whim because the cover art looked great The most exciting thing I can say about Gillespie and I is that now I ve finished it, I ve ordered The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente That s not to say it was a bad book it is actually a very clever and well written book it s just not a book I would have chosen to read and it didn t pack enough wow punch to make a convert of me So let s review the actual book then, shall we SPOILERS AHEAD DIVERS ALARUMS I say this nice and clear because this review is going to be spoilerific, so if you re planning to read this book soon, you really should NOT keep reading Gillespie and I is a story about an English spinster, Harriet Baxter in the 1880s She moves to Glasgow after her Aunt dies and soon befriends the Gillespie family promising working class painter, Ned, his wife Annie, his overbearing mother, Elspeth, and his two young daughters Sybil and Rose To begin with, we follow the trials and tribulations of the Ned s domestic and professional life Sybil is a naughty little girl, and it s hard to break through as an established painter There are overtones of foreboding regarding how sinister Sybil can be, and that something horrific happened to Ned s youngest, Rose Around the half way point, Rose goes missing Months later the little girl s body is found in a shallow grave Very quickly afterwards, Harriet is arrested and charged with kidnapping and murder The latter part of the book follows the trial, and the crown s case that Harriet was obsessed with worming her way into the Gillespie s home and driving Ned s family away from him, one by one She s accused of hiring some goons to kidnap the girl they were meant to return her unharmed, but there was an accident during the getaway and she sustained a blow to the head and later died The story is told as Harriet s memoire she was cleared of all charges and, now an old lady, is telling her side of events There s a second thread modern day around 1920, I think regarding Harriet s life now, and in particular her new live in maid, Sarah Again, there s tints and foreboding that Sarah is actually the mad daughter of the Gillespie s, Sybil, come for her revenge.It s a great example of the unreliable narrator this is Harriet s version of events, and there are hints scattered throughout that her interpretation is biased despite all attempts to portray herself as a reasonable and objective witness Before long, there s little doubt that Harriet s version of events is untrue, possibly delusional, and it s down to the audience to read between the lines and piece together the true chain of events.The image of Harriet that emerges is a complex, psychologically perhaps pathologically damaged woman, who is very bright, very articulate, and has completely divorced her good identity the angle of mercy from the scheming, devious, manipulative bitch she truly is She believes every word of her lies and papers over the cracks with meticulous detail.As mentioned in my introduction, this isn t my normal kind of book This is Mann Booker fare This is Literature I m a genre geek I can t think of any books I ve read with protagonists like this but I have seen films that are comparable Notes on a Scandal, Match Point and The Talented Mr Ripley are three that spring to mind They re creepy They re often described as psychological thrillers It s not a subgenre I m fond of It s a kind of storytelling in which I can appreciate the skill and subtlety of the storytelling, the careful tightrope walk of doubt, empathy and disgust the protagonist elicits, but I ve never really enjoyed it If anything, Gillespie and I is a harder sell all three of those films are motivated by distorted forms of love You never get the sense that Harriet is in love with Ned, but she s obsessed with his attention, perhaps as a surrogate father figure The book is superbly written, there s no doubt about that Wonderfully sketched characters, dialogue and detail and the multi layered delusion truth in the telling is never conceited or convoluted I can point to no flaws I simply did not enjoy it.The final, poignant moment where the mad old bat looks up at the picture of The Studio above her fire, and it s presence there completely obliterates any shreds of doubt that was very nicely done That almost earned it a fourth star, but that was an on the spot reaction which quickly faded Gillespie and I gets a respectful three stars from me.After this I read My War Gone By, I Miss It So


  7. says:

    I wasn t prepared to be blown away by this book.If I m being honest, I really enjoyed The Observations and that is the sole reason that I requested the book when I purchased it for the library I was a bit worried that this would be another Swan Thieves for me, but she seems to have pulled off the second novel after the first success quite nicely Speaking of second novels, I m still waiting, Diane Setterfield It s been six years get your butt in gear I can t really write about the plot without giving anything away I m not a person to be bothered by spoilers, but this is one of those books that you really don t want to know much of before hand.One thing that I really loved about this book was that I enjoyed not liking any of the characters Usually I have to like at least one of them to really become vested in a story, but this was quite the opposite They were all equally annoying in their own ways, but it worked for me because the narration was so spot on.As the book progressed, I found myself scratching my head wondering what the hell was going on could I trust the eloquent Harriet What s really going on here And by the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt a bit used and abused again because of the genius narration but in a good way that reminded me of the feeling I had upon finishing Fingersmith favorite read of 2010 That all being said, I think this is a book that appeals very much to my reading tastes It s set in the UK, in the past, and it messes with my mind without being too explicit I m not sure that others will quite feel the same way about this book, and I m okay with that I wish it had at least made the Booker long list, but maybe next time, Jane Harris.


  8. says:

    Review from BadelyngeI ve never been the quickest of readers but this vibrantly written novel, weighing in at 500 plus pages, so engrossed me I devoured it in just 4 days It seemed so innocent at first, beguiling me with its engagingly described cast of characters.In 1933 Miss Harriet Baxter sits in her Bloomsbury apartment, tending to her caged finches and writing her memoir of the times she spent with Ned Gillespie over 4 decades earlier, an up and coming young artist, her dear friend, she dubs him, her soul mate even.At once we are informed that her friend Gillespie and his young family are ill fated, that the tale will end in tragedy, a tragedy so deep that the young man will destroy his life s work and take his own life The first half of the book follows Harriet, then a thirty something spinster, as she relocates from London to Glasgow after the death of her Aunt, a woman who had brought her up after the death of her mother In 1888 Glasgow hosts the first International Exhibition and Harriet decides to rent rooms nearby to take in the spectacle A chance encounter, amusingly recounted through Harriet s memoir, brings her into the orbit of the Gillespie family, her timely extraction of half a set of dentures from the back of an old lady s throat, who turns out to be Ned s mother, is the first step on the road to what lies ahead Over several months Harriet becomes almost part of the household, finding opportunity after opportunity to ingratiate herself among them.Just as we start to get comfortable with the happy set up, Harriet reminds us that there are dark times ahead a trial even, though what crime is looming and who is to stand accused is left unsaid Although leisurely, the narrative at no stage bored me Despite its length I was always either entertained or intrigued I was fascinated by the complicated family dynamic, the Victorian detail, the depiction of Glasgow and its characters both fictional and historical, and of course, Harriet s colourful and often acerbic observations It s fairly apparent that Harriet at times does resort to being manipulative, she s prone to bias and there s something quite off kilter in some of her references to her stepfather and Ned, her so called soul mate, but I still found myself liking her The second half of the novel deals with the break down of the Gillespie family and the trial I hold my hands up and admit I was completely wrong footed by how things progressed I ll not say any as I d be risking straying into spoiler space Suffice it to say that the conclusion doesn t disappoint.I would heartily recommend this book as a great summer read, perfect for that sunny afternoon in the garden, though I must warn you that you may not notice the sun on your face, or the pleasant bird song in the trees, or the bees in the Buddleia not if you sink as deep into Harriet Baxter s world as I did.This review was from an Advance Reading Copy.


  9. says:

    The author captures the vocabulary and life style of the nineteenth century admirably, including the International Exhibition in Glasgow and art scene of the day The book begins in the 1930 s, as Harriet Baxter is writing her memoirs regarding her friendship love of Ned Gillespie, an artist, and his family Through a tragic turn of events, they are wrenched apart The flashbacks and her current setting somewhat coincide as mysterious things happen to her in the present day as she recounts her brief immersion into the lives of the Gillespie family.


  10. says:

    This book had a really weird effect on me after I finished, I sat there wondering if I was like the narrator self deluding, manipulative, not able to see what I m doing or worse, knowing and yet somehow still managing to tell the story as if I m the victim There was something just so well done and so unpleasant about the way the narrator tells her profoundly skewed version of events, and the slow way the hints pile up about that The little details you need to keep in mind, because they suddenly reveal something huge.The main character is not likeable, though she is at times pathetic in a way that makes you pity her the others around her are much alive and genuine, though you only see them through the biased eyes of Harriet Again, you have to watch for the gaps to see why she s so fascinated, how these characters really feel about her, what is really going on It s not a mystery novel, not really, and yet in some ways you need to read it like one, watching out for the gun in the first act that must go off by the fifth.The narration and set up is really clever I enjoyed the book a lot, though I wouldn t recommend it for people who like a quick payoff It takes a while to really see where the novel is going and what it s doing Worth it, but not everyone s cup of tea.Originally posted here.


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