GILLESPIE AND I by Jane Harris, Review: Captivating narrative

In Gillespie and I, Jane Harris has crafted an immensely engaging tale filled with a cast of eccentric characters and enough red herrings to sink a ship.

Gillespie and I Synopsis

Gillespie and I, Jane Harris - audiobook

As she sits in her Bloomsbury home with her two pet birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter recounts the story of her friendship with Ned Gillespie—a talented artist whose life came to a tragic end before he ever achieved the fame and recognition that Harriet maintains he deserved.

In 1888, young Harriet arrives in Glasgow during the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter with Ned, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in their lives. But when tragedy strikes, culminating in a notorious criminal trial, the certainty of Harriet’s new world rapidly spirals into suspicion and despair.

Infused with rich period detail, shot through with sly humor, and featuring a memorable cast of characters, Gillespie and I is an absorbing, atmospheric tale of one young woman’s friendship with a volatile artist and her place in the controversy that consumes him—a tour de force from one of the emerging names of modern fiction. 

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I simply fell into Gillespie and I. The voice of narrating character Harriet Baxter hooked me from the word go – her independent nature, her opinionated free thought and deliciously dark sense of humour. Her internalised feisty snipes when describing those she meets in polite society both caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. If she wants something to happen, she makes it happen. I immediately liked her style.

What is so special about the main character Jane Harris has created though is that those same character traits that are at first beguiling can in a different light point to much more sinister things.

In Gillespie and I Jane Harris has crafted an immensely engaging tale filled with a cast of eccentric characters and enough red herrings to sink a ship.

In addition to quirky characters and hauntingly dark undertones, Harris’ descriptions of time and place were evocative and weighty. The tale and prose exude a sense of grandness, for me, reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca.

Audiobook narration

Gillespie and I was a real treat to listen to in audio. A superb performance by one of my favourite narrators Anna Bentinck (also narrated David Nicholls’ One Day), heightened the tension between listener and unreliable narrator to great effect (listen to an audio sample ).

For fans of literature and historical fiction Gillespie and I is a must-read. This novel is an experience rather than a book simply to pass the time with.

Any author that can keep me so thoroughly engrossed for 19 hours (more than 500 pages) deserves high praise. Jane Harris has done just that and then left me reflecting upon the tale and my reactions to it for many hours more.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5  —  Overal 4.75

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Genre: Historical, Drama, Mystery, Crime-Detective, Thriller, Audio

More great historical fiction reads: The London Seance Society by Sarah Penner | Go As a River by Shelley Read | When I First Held You by Anstey Harris | Everything My Mother Taught Me by Alice Hoffman | The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

About the Author, Jane Harris

Jane Harris is a British writer of fiction and screenplaysGillespie and I is Jane Harris’ second novel. It was long-listed for the 2012 Orange Prize. Her debut title The Observations was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007.  Learn more  at her website.

Watch Jane Harris at Edinburgh Central Library talking about her novels Gillespie and I and The Observations: