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 humor, Gillespie and I is a tour de force from one of the emerging names of British fiction.
From art-world gossip in the Glaswegian newspapers to the stilted language of the criminal trial at the end of the book, this is a noisy, full, and fast-paced story, both delightful and disturbing... but mainly delightful. (Reviewed by Amy Reading).
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.
The Washington Post 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.
Harris (The Observations) succeeds with nuanced characters, including the mysterious Harriet, but takes too long to arrive at... 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.
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.
Harris follows up her smashing debut with another biting, character-driven satire.
The Independent (UK)
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.
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 Daily Mail (UK)
A wonderfully compelling read.
Sunday Times (UK)
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.
Glasgow's International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry (1888)
Jane Harris sets her novel Gillespie and I at a time when Scotland felt it was ready for its close-up. The International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry took place in Glasgow from May to November in 1888 at Kelvingrove Park on the banks of the River Kelvin (image below, left). It was the country's bid for prominence in the industrial age, following the "world fair" model established by the enormously popular Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
Its main purpose was to highlight Scottish contributions to industry and applied science, especially to that which made Scotland a distinctive force of Empire: ship-building, engines, and ships' accommodations. Even the Orientalism of much of its architecture - the Main Building (image below, center) was called "Baghdad by the Kelvin" - was intended to favorably contrast Scotland to pre-industrial cultures.
From the award-winning author of The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre and The Beautiful Miscellaneous comes a sweeping historical novel set amid the skyscrapers of 1890s Chicago and the far-flung islands of the South Pacific.
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