Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gillespie and I

Author: Jane Harris

Published: May 2011 

What They Say: From the award-winning author of "The Observations" comes a beautifully conjured and wickedly sharp tale of art and deception in nineteenth-century Scotland.

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.

What Elaine Says: Hmmm.  I’m not sure why I bought this book if I’m honest.  It’s not my normal sort of thing (whatever that is) and it’s also a very large chunky (albeit pretty) hardback edition.  Still, something obviously appealed to me so much that I not only bought it, I also picked it from the hundreds of others waiting to be read on my shelves and read it. Having done so however I’m still none the wiser as the ‘why?’. 

It’s a good book, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just not great.  It doesn’t please or stimulate thought it simply reads nicely.  In fact, if it weren’t for the monumental size of the edition I have, I’d say it was a perfect beach read. 

The story, the life of a fictional, relatively unknown, Scottish painter in the Fin De Si├Ęcle, as told by an aging (not very impartial) Harriet Baxter is interesting but the book takes some unusual turns and the main narrator is possibly one of the most irritating biographers I’ve encountered.  

Having read book and feeling as ambivalent towards it as I do it’s hard to actually rate it.  There are some very well read people I know that would love this book yet it just didn’t work for me.   The best I can do is say give it a chance yourself.  You may catch something I missed.

 Elaine's Rating: 5/10

"You may also wonder why I have been silent for so long, and why it has taken me all these years to put pen to paper. Perhaps I needed to gain some distance from a sequence of profoundly affecting events, not least of which was that Ned, in addition to wiping out his artistic legacy, also took his own life. By that time, I was thousands of miles away, and powerless to help him. Confident of an eventual reconciliation, I never suspected that we were moving towards such a rapid unraveling, not only of our relationship (what with all that silly white-slavery business and the trial) but also of his entire fate. However, let us not get ahead of ourselves. I will come to that in due course."

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