Review of Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

gillespieI liked Gillespie and I, I just didn’t love it as much as I expected to.  It takes place in turn of the century Scotland and revolves around an artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family.  The story is told by Harriet Baxter, a single, well-off woman who meets the Gillespies and becomes their close friend.  She tells the story as an elderly woman in 1933, recounting the events of 1888, when she visits Glasgow to see the World’s Fair exhibition, and decides to stay for a while as her life becomes enmeshed in the complicated lives of the Gillespies.

This is a story with a lot of twists and turns, and I don’t want to tell you too much.  Gillespie is a talented artist but his family is struggling financially, and his wife Annie is overwhelmed by the needs of their two children, Rose and Sibyl.  Harriet has time on her hands, no family to speak of except an emotionally-distant stepfather, and income to spare, so she immediately looks for ways to further Gillespie’s career and help Annie with the family.

Harriet isn’t an easy character to warm to.  She throws her money around and seems to have no sense of boundaries.  Even though this is 1888, she doesn’t stop to consider whether spending time alone with a married man is appropriate.  She has the best of intentions and cares about her friends, and if she’s a little arrogant at times, it’s forgivable (mostly).

If you like stories told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, you’ll enjoy this book.  Harris brings subtlety and complexity to the character of Harriet.  You know you’re not getting the entire picture, and that keeps you reading.

As historical fiction, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get more turn-of-the-century art and life in Scotland.  I love that period and I especially love Scotland and the work of artists like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  But his work, and the Art Nouveau movement, all come after 1988, which isn’t the fault of this book.  But I still wanted to learn more about the artists of that time.

I also didn’t get much feel for Scotland or Glasgow at the time, maybe because the book is told from the point of view of an English woman, whose only impression of the Scots is that they hate the English.  In general, I didn’t feel I was immersed in a specific time and place, which is why I read historical fiction.

I also found this book a little slow moving, especially in the beginning.  It tells a good story, but ultimately I didn’t love it.  This is a book most readers have raved about, so use your own judgment.

  2 comments for “Review of Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

  1. May 6, 2013 at 7:08 am

    This was the book selected for my book group for last October. I was away for the debate, but I did read the book and like you I enjoyed it, but it didn’t have that wow factor for me.

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