From the Orange Prize-nominated 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 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.
Tuesday, 11 April 1933
It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand? Indeed, one might say, who else is left to tell the tale? Ned Gillespie: artist, innovator, and forgotten genius; my dear friend and soul mate. I first became acquainted with Gillespie in the spring of 1888 and during the course of several years thereafter we were connected through the most intimate of friendships. During this time, I learned to understand Ned - not simply through what he said - but also through his merest glance. So profound was our rapport that I was, on occasion, the first to behold his completed paintings, sometimes before his wife Annie had cast her gaze upon them. Ned and I had even agreed to co-author a volume on his life and work; but, unfortunately, that book was never written, due to his tragic and premature death at the age of thirty-six, just as (in my humble opinion) he was about to reach the very zenith of...
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).
Full Review (895 words).
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 ...
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