This week we welcome Chrys Schlapak from the SQA book group, to review Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
This book was chosen as our Book Group read, partly because Glasgow Library Service lent us 8 copies on long loan and partly because two of us had it on our wish list having read the author’s first novel: The Observations.
The more I think about this book, the more difficult I’m finding it to describe/review etc. I guess I should start with the basics:
Harriet Baxter is an English woman who heads north to Glasgow, following her aunt’s death, to visit the International Exhibition of 1888. There she meets the Gillespie family and quickly becomes part of their ‘circle’ and life. Ned Gillespie is an artist just on the fringes of ‘The Glasgow Boys’ and is married to Annie with two children Sybil and Rose. There are other family members and friends, but it’s Harriet’s involvement with Ned that the story is really centred around. From here, it’s difficult to describe without giving too much away.
The book is written as a memoir, so you meet Harriet in 1933 as she writes about her time in Glasgow with the Gillespies and as you read it, your perceptions shift and you begin to wonder about what you’ve already read and what it all really means. (I read one review that suggested it was only good in ‘retrospect’ which I found a little harsh, but not entirely wrong) I did ‘cotton on’ fairly early that things were not all they seemed, but that was partly due to attending a reading by the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival – more because of some of the audience questions than the author giving the game away! I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning that here.
Someone has also said that it has similarities with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher but really that’s only because a crime is committed and a court case ensues and the Victorian setting is reminiscent. I think it’s a better book than that, even though I did enjoy reading Mr Whicher.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and didn’t feel that it was too long despite it being 500 pages. It did take me longer than usual to read, but that’s because it wasn’t handbag/train/bus friendly being such a sizeable tome! When I did get a chance to sit and read, I flew through it.