‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris tells the story of Harriet Baxter and her close friendship with the Gillespie family in Glasgow in the late 1880s while the International Exhibition was being held. However, when tragedy strikes the family, their relationship with Harriet quickly unravels and deep secrets are revealed. Harriet tells the story as she looks back on events whilst writing her memoirs in 1933 at the age of eighty but the story is not over as it soon becomes clear that a figure from Harriet’s past has re-emerged in her life.
I think the book’s real strength lies in Harriet’s biased narrative and the way in which Harris builds suspense and subtly manipulates the reader’s expectations and perceptions of the characters. The first 100 pages or so definitely lull you into a false sense of security because of the supposed innocence with which they are written. I love unreliable narrators and this one does not disappoint.However, when it comes to vividly detailed descriptions of life in the Victorian age, I still think Sarah Waters is the superior writer. I don’t think the atmosphere of the setting was evoked quite as well as it could have been even though it was evident that Harris had done her research particularly on Scottish criminal trials in the nineteenth century. I also think the middle section of the book dragged slightly but apart from that, the pace was generally well set. While jumping back and forth between the events in the late 1880s and 1933 might seem both irritating and unnecessary at first, the two stories are satisfyingly interwoven and the narrative is also controlled very well.
‘Gillespie and I’ is a good holiday read. It is an enjoyable book which slowly reveals that it has more to it than meets the eye. Giving anything else away would be spoiling the story…
3 responses to “Gillespie and I by Jane Harris”
Agree with you that this is a good holiday read. Here’s my review http://allthingsbooker.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/an-unsolved-mystery-gillespie-and-i/
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