Gillespie and I

Gillespie and I

Set across two time zones and two British cities, Gillespie and I had the potential to be a very good novel, full of mystery and intrigue. Harriet Baxter, an unmarried English woman, moves to Glasgow in 1888 after the death of her mother. After coincidentally saving the life of the mother of an up-and-coming artist, Ned Gillespie (whom she had previously met), Harriet begins to ingratiate herself into the Gillespie household, doing everything in her power to encourage Ned’s painting. The family, however, is slowly being torn apart and an imminent event will change the lives of both the Gillespie family and Harriet forever, whilst in the present, 1933, Harriet employs a rather shifty woman to help her, and who seems to be plotting against her.


Gillespie and I gets off to a good start, introducing us to the main character and narrator, Harriet, and dropping hints that all is not as it seems. Each character is complex and secretive and Harris fast creates a world of intrigue that draws the reader in. The problem, though, is that Harris is unable to sustain this for all 600 pages. After a few hundred pages, I found myself being able to fairly easily guess the rest of the plot – something that the reader should never be able to do.


Harriet Baxter is also, for me, not the ideal narrator. The switch between 1888 in Glasgow and 1933 in London means that we are never in any doubt about Harriet’s safety in Glasgow, which could have potentially improved the novel. There is also something rather irritating in the way that Harriet drops hint about future events in her memoir from the first few pages, when the events don’t actually unfold for a very long time.


I am not one for giving up on novels, though. I kept going, if only to find out what it was that would be so life-changing for Harriet (although I had already half-guessed what it would be) and, on reaching the end, I was somewhat disappointed. Instead of ending on a cliff-hanger, which I think was Harris’s intention, the novel arrived more at a dead end. Although leaving things unresolved can work, in Gillespie and I it just left me frustrated – frustrated that I had waded through 600 pages to find no light at the end of a very dark tunnel. What was initially a good premise ended on a damp squid – disappointing from an author whose début, The Observations, was short-listed for the Orange Prize.

By Julia Molloy

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