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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Gillespie & I by Jane Harris

Imagine this; there's a particular book that crops up on your reading horizon. It gets fantastic reviews everywhere you look. Friends and bloggers whose opinions you trust, whose tastes usually match yours exactly, are heaping praise upon this novel. But something about it just doesn't appeal to you. The premise, the cover, the genre, whatever. Does this sound familiar? What do you do in cases like this - do you believe the hype and read the book out of curiosity, or do you trust your instinct and go for one of the many other tomes on the TBR mountain that hold more appeal to you personally?

This was exactly what happened to me with Gillespie & I. I can't exactly call it a 'hyped' novel, but it had entirely glowing reviews from all of my most trusted sources. It felt like people were urging me to pick it up. But it didn't feel like my usual reading fare. I tend to approach anything resembling 'historical fiction' very cautiously. It's a bit of a chunkster, which I have to admit can also make me a bit more hesitant to plunge into a novel. And despite the positive reviews, the synopses I had read gave me a very poor sense of the plot. A woman's account of her past friendship with an artist and his family - well it doesn't sound like very much actually happens, does it? Where's the action? But eventually curiosity got the better of me and I am delighted that it did! The whole time I was turning the pages I was thinking: "why, oh why didn't I read this sooner?!".


So, as I have already mentioned, in Gillespie & I the reader is made privy to the memoirs of Ms Harriet Baxter, an elderly spinster who is reflecting on her past and recounting the story of her close friendship with the struggling artist Ned Gillespie and his family. From the beginning it is made clear that Ned came to an untimely end and never knew the fame and success of several of his contemporaries. Harriet's wish is for Ned to finally get the recognition that she feels he deserved, albeit posthumously.

Harriet is one of the most wonderful characters I've encountered in a long, long time. I really missed her after putting the book down. She takes all your expectations of how a lady at that time should act and throws them out of the window. Unashamedly single, chain-smoking and with a wicked tongue that brings all the other characters to life just as vividly as Harriet herself. I particularly loved her descriptions of the indomitable Elspeth Gillespie with all her airs and graces. But it gradually becomes apparent that she might not be telling us the whole story about past events, and then a big revelation made halfway through the novel turns everything on its head. She is a deliciously unreliable narrator and it is so much fun to pick apart her memories and try to decide what is fact and what is fiction.

It's difficult to say more than that without giving away spoilers, but I hope I've conveyed just how much I loved this book. It reminded me of another recent favourite, Alys, Always - but I might even have enjoyed it a bit more than that. If you have been considering reading this but have been put off by its bulk or something else, please give it a go, I don't think you'll regret it. I've passed it straight on to family members as it's one of those books I want to recommend to everybody. The Observations by Jane Harris has now gone straight on my wishlist.
 

12 comments:

  1. I'm so glad to read that you enjoyed this one Marie. It has been on my to be read pile far, far too long. I really loved The Observations and would definitely recommend it.

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    1. I have already bought far too many books this month, but The Observations is top of my list when it comes to my June allowance!

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  2. Actually I admit that I haven't heard about this one and it sounds like something I would enjoy. I read The Observations by Jane Harris and it was also a very good read.
    Thanks
    Lynn :D

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    1. I'm definitely going to pick up The Observations soon. If you can get a copy of this one I'd definitely recommend it, I loved it.

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  3. This book has been on my radar for so long, I've been meaning to read it; I blame Simon Savidge, now you are just reminding me to read it.

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    1. Ha - I have to agree that Simon Savidge was largely responsible for me finally taking the plunge to read this too! And he was right, you should definitely give it a go!

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  4. It's not something I would pick up either, but you're right, so many bloggers have absolutely loved it.

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  5. This is new to me, but you make it sound very appealing.

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  6. This has been on my TBR for aaaaaaaages. I have no recollection of buying it or what prompted me to do so, and I have absolutely no idea of the basic plot.

    I feel better about reading it now though! It was one of the books I'd been eyeing with a view to culling it in a few weeks, but maybe I'll give it a chance. You're right in that A LOT of bloggers have enjoyed it and SOMETHING must have made me pick it up in the first place!

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    1. I would urge you to give it a chance, Hanna! I hope I can save it from the cull! I think that was a stumbling block preventing me from picking it up, too - that I had no idea of the plot. It's quite difficult to sum up the plot without it all sounding a bit dry, I think, but it's really not at all. For such a big book it's really easy to read and very witty.

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  7. This really does sound a good book and different from my usual fare. It's going on my list!

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  8. Hoorah! Although 'Gillespie and I' sounds right up my street and despite the glowing reviews I have yet to pluck this off my shelves - possibly for this very reason! I will do very soon. Particularly after reading your great review. I suppose I was just waiting for the hype to completely die down....

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