My review of Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
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 that she maintains he deserved.
It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand?
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 disintegrate into mystery and deception.
I have to begin by saying narrator of this nineteenth century Scottish Victorian story of 'friendship,' Harriet Baxter is not the easiest woman to warm up to! She is that dreaded 'S' word, most commonly found in Victorian era fiction...SPINSTER...Harriet Baxter describes herself as 'not a comely' sort of girl, proud of being self-taught, independent and aware of her shortcomings. As predicted she is considerably wealthy and in an attempt to save off her guilt she does 'good deeds'. This is her saving grace. It makes her a likeable character along with the fact that Harriet is a good friend to those she cares about.
As 'Gillespie and I' begins, we discover that Harriet saves the life of a respectably dressed woman who faints dead away on a crowded Glaswegian street. She cannot breathe because her dentures are literally choking her! Harriet has just saved the life of the mother of the young Scottish artist Ned Gillespie whom she describes as her 'dear friend and soul mate!'
Spinster, Harriet Baxter becomes friends with the Gillespie family. There's Ned, his wife Annie, his mother Elspeth (whom Harriet saved), and two daughters, Sybil (aged 7) and Rose her baby sister. Harriet tags along when the family goes for walks in the park, she showers their children with gifts and she befriends their other friends all to be near Ned Gillespie! The Gillespies' start to accept her in their lives partly because they feel indebted to her and partly because she is good with their children.
It could be said that Harriet's presence and friendship is what triggers Sybil's 'odd behaviour!'
At first it's 'bratty' acting out to get Ned's attention and what you think is typical sibling rivalry and competition establishing itself are the red herrings set out by Jane Harris . Let's just say the eldest daughter is named 'Sybil' for a reason! The writing is quite good and once the doubt is established, questions arise, and the reader feels the need to backtrack and re-read the 'red herring' sections! I won't go into much detail because it will spoil the plot!
This is not a romance but a friendship between a painter and a spinster. It is refreshing to note that the artist Ned Gillespie is a man of good standing who loves his wife and family. There are many different storylines and plots going on which I really enjoyed. If you are looking for a romantic Victorian artist and muse story, this is not for you. If you enjoy a story about various types of friendships i.e. between husband and wife and artist and patron then you might enjoy Gillespie and I. There are haunting psychological undercurrents which made up for some dragging chapters!
I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters where Harriet reminisces about her friendship with Ned Gillespie and their conversations about the art world and various museums in nineteenth century Scotland, 'We were connected through the most intimate of friendships, 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.'
Jane Harris is quite good at descriptive writing and she knows how to set the scene.
If you are looking for a different take on the Victorian Era why not give Gillespie and I a try!
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,