Gillespie and I

( 3 )


From the award-winning author of The Observations comes a beautifully conjured and wickedly sharp tale of art and deception in nineteenth-century Scotland.

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.

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Gillespie and I

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From the award-winning author of The Observations comes a beautifully conjured and wickedly sharp tale of art and deception in nineteenth-century Scotland.

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.

Infused with rich period detail, shot through with sly humor, and featuring a memorable cast of characters, Gillespie and I is an absorbing, atmospheric tale of one young woman’s friendship with a volatile artist and her place in the controversy that consumes him—a tour de force from one of the emerging names of modern fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Harris’s haunting second novel finds Harriet Baxter, a single 30-something adrift after the death of her aunt, visiting the famous Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888. There she meets the Gillespies: Ned, a talented painter; his wife, Annie; their young children, Sybil and Rose; and Ned’s mother, Elspeth. In quick order Harriet becomes obsessively close to them, sitting for paintings, assisting Ned in his career, befriending Annie, and even helping take care of Sybil, whose increasingly disturbing behavior leads to the angelic Rose going missing while in her care. Months later, Harriet is unexpectedly arrested—for Rose’s murder. This is all presented through Harriet’s memoirs, written as an old woman in 1930s London and focused on the curious behavior of her maid, who may hold a mystifying connection to the Gillespie family. Harris (The Observations) succeeds with nuanced characters, including the mysterious Harriet, but takes too long to arrive at Harriet’s trial, the crux of the plot. Once there, however, the reader will be so thoroughly entrenched in the carefully arranged details and the courtroom’s gripping drama that there will be no turning back. Agent: Curtis Brown Group Ltd. (Feb.)
The Times (London)
“This is 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, and about the burdens that those hopes and imaginings impose upon those around us.”
The Independent
“Clever and entertaining. . . . Multi-layered, dotted with dry black humour and underpinned by a haunting sense of loneliness, this skilfully plotted psychological mystery leaves a few threads dangling, all of them leading back to an old woman living in London in 1933.”
Sunday Times (London)
“It is rare to read a literary novel where the storytelling is as skilful as the writing is fine, but in Gillespie and I, Harris has pulled off the only too rare double whammy—a Booker-worthy novel that I want to read again.”
Daily Mail (London)
“A wonderfully compelling read.”
Chicago Tribune
“To detail even minor aspects of the plot twists in GILLESPIE AND I would necessitate an additional crime: You’d want to kill me. So delectably well has Harris constructed this psychological thriller that even the slightest hint of what’s to come would spoil things.”
Washington Post
“To say anything more would be to give away the plot, which is too delectable to spoil.”
“Harris follows up her smashing debut with another biting, character-driven satire.”
Shelf Awareness
“Even for readers who think they’ve seen everything, GILLESPIE AND I is almost certain to be surprising. . . . A masterwork of subtlety and penetrating psychological insight. . . . But few hints will prepare most readers for what is to come.”
Kirkus Reviews
Elegant novel of love, loss and redemption among the Victorians and Caledonians. Harriet Baxter is a hither-and-thither kind of person, capable of getting where she needs to go, even if the mores of the time suggest that a 35-year-old woman should not properly be wandering off alone for "a sojourn to the magnificent spectacle that was said to bestraddle both banks of the River Kelvin." Yet, once they've fled the pea-soup fog of London and seen the bright lights of Glasgow, how are you going to keep the lasses from such wanderings? Introduce love into the mix, and you stand a chance—and so Harris, who staked out Victorian Scotland as her home turf in her debut novel The Observations (2006), does. Once on the auld sod, Harriet—who narrates these events from a distance of half a century—saves a woman from choking on her dentures. That act draws her into the orbit of the woman's family, which just happens to include a brilliant artist named Ned, whom Harriet instantly groks as a soulmate, if not necessarily a physical one: "His name is Gillespie, sir, and he's already married," she tells her stepfather about her newly kindled friendship. (On that point, how the Victorians managed to reproduce is a subject of mystery.) All this happens in a short span of pages, at the end of which Harris gives us to understand that things are not going to end well. Harris writes sensitively and in rich detail, whether conjuring up a Glaswegian streetscape or the elements of one of Ned's compositions. The imbroglio that she conjures up for the Gillespies is something of a potboiler, involving white slavery, unlawful carnal knowledge and Satanism. Or perhaps not: as Harriet complains, "It is incredible what the newspapers are able to get away with printing." The narrative holds up well to the very end, though the reader will have to have the ability to wend his or her way through the leisurely sentences appropriate to the time and place. A fine evocation of a lost era, and without a false note.
Carolyn See
Gillespie and I is a deliciously morbid, almost smutty story, a compendium of inappropriate wants and smarmy desires…there are what amounts to three different novels in these 500 pages, each one creepier than the last. If you are in any way squeamish or genteel, skip Gillespie and I. If you'd like to know a little more about the seamy side of the human condition, by all means, pick this one up.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062103208
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 485,400
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Harris is the author of the award-winning novel The Observations. She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 23, 2012

    This well written novel about a spinster's relationship with a G

    This well written novel about a spinster's relationship with a Glaswegian artist and his family during the late 19th century seems lighthearted in the first pages, but later casts a somewhat ominous tone. I hesitate to elaborate further for I may provide spoilers. This would be a great selection for a book club.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 7, 2012

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    Posted April 1, 2012

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