Thursday, February 23, 2012

book review: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

The basics: The Gillespie of the title refers to Ned Gillespie, a Scottish painter whom Harriet, the I of the title, befriended many years before when she visited the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1888. Now in 1933, Harriet is almost 80, and she realizes no one has written a book about Gillespie, so she will tell his story.

My thoughts: This book swept me away from the first lines. To this reader of modern fiction, the voice of Harriet, our intrepid and delightful narrator, truly hearkens back to the setting of the novel. Harris combined period authenticity with modern sass, and I adored it:
"A preposterous name, and it occurred to me that, perhaps, she had made it up. I went on to ask a few questions about her family, and her reactions continued to be guarded. She told me that her parents were dead. I did manage to get a little more out of her. To my mind, it all sounds like a fairy tale. She claims to have grown up in a tiny cottage beside a well; her father was a shoemaker, and her mother, a washerwoman. Tempted to ask: 'And your grandparents--were they elves?' I managed to restrain myself, just in time."
Most of the action in this novel takes place in Harriet's retelling of events beginning in 1888, but there are sections intermixed of what's happening as she's writing in 1933. I found both storylines fascinating, but what surprised me is how my perceptions of both changed as the book went on. What begins as a charming, quirky period piece became an increasingly dark mystery. This shift makes it quite difficult to discuss this novel without spoiling pieces of it.

Favorite passage: "We may have the vote now, and win Pulitzer prizes, and fly solo across the Atlantic, and these days, a female artist with a family might well earn a good living from painting, but in the privacy of the doctor's surgery, we are still made to feel insignificant, aberrant, even unnatural."

The verdict: I loved this novel, and I was sad when it ended. I want to spend more time with Harriet's quirky, fascinating tale. Gillespie and I was a compelling read filled with historical detail, fascinating characters and beautiful writing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 528 pages
Publication date: January 31, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Gillespie and I from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.) Want more reviews? Check out the full tour schedule.

Learn more about Jane Harris: visit her website, Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

17 comments:

  1. I loved this book -- it blew my mind as it shifted, like you say, from quirky to something darker. I couldn't believe it. SO good. I want to reread it already!

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    1. I just keep thinking about the last chapter. It loved it!

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  2. I have been on the fence about buying this one, and your review has finally convinced me to go ahead and do it! I love books that slowly morph from one thing to another with panache and ease, and can imagine that I will love this one. Terrific review today. I can't wait to read this one for myself!

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    1. Zibilee--I can't wait to hear your thoughts. It's such an intriguing novel to discuss, but one that's very difficult to review without disclosing too much!

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  3. This title is new to me, but your review is just glowing. I've been looking for a good historical fiction title to get lost in. It seems that the novel features women's issues as well, judging by the quotation you provided, and that makes it even more appealing. Can't wait to discuss!

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    1. I can't wait to discuss either. It's such an intriguing portrait of both a woman and a time.

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  4. Great review! Sounds like a novel I'd like.

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  5. Isn't this book just marvelous? I loved it with huge love! :)

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    1. Me too! I feel like a member of a semi-secret club who loves this book and knows its secrets!

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  6. So, I am totally the only one who did not like this! Typical :)

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    1. Leah--it's like me with The Help! Sorry it didn't work for you!

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  7. Reading all these amazing reviews has moved this book WAY WAY WAY up on my TBR list - I know it's going to be a favorite of mine once I read it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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    1. Heather--it's such a deliciously dark read!

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  8. That passage you quoted made me snort. She sounds like a narrator I would love! Adding this to the TBR right now . . .

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    1. Yes--Harriet is one of the most memorable narrators I've come across this year. She's fascinating!

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  9. I just finished and was blown away. I'm mulling over the last couple chapters and it's just amazing hot Harris painted two very different perceptions of Harriet in a couple hundred pages. I walked away with so many questions and doubts but was ok with it. Such a great story! Thanks for sharing this one. I look forward to seeing more by Harris in the future.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!