Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

DATE FINISHED: May 2nd, 2012

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  In the 1930s, Harriet Baxter is an ‘old maid’ looking back on her acquaintance with the Gillespie family, back in the 1890s.  Following a chance encounter on a Glasgow street, Harriet’s friendship with the family grows over the following months, and she becomes an ardent fan of up-and-coming artist Ned Gillespie’s work.   When the Gillespies’ younger daughter disappears, however, relations become strained…

THOUGHTS:   If you have read any reviews of this book, it is impossible to approach it without the knowledge that Harriet is an ‘unreliable narrator’.  With this in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the first 200 pages or so of her narrative – the pompous, ingratiating tone, the obvious over-interpretation of small gestures.  When the child disappears – the point at which I felt the real drama was supposed to commence – I began to feel as though everything was far more drawn out than necessary.  From reviews I had read, I was aware the latter half of the book was supposed to be quite different, so I withheld judgement.

Unfortunately, I must maintain that the first 200 pages are as good as this book gets.  The trial which follows Rose Gillespie’s disappearance is a plodding affair in which one by one, holes are picked and alternative viewpoints are presented of the story previously related by Harriet, with very little sense of tension or suspense.  Nothing comes as much of a surprise, and I kept waiting for further twists on the new ‘revelations’ – which did not come.  I wanted a double bluff, or some new and unanticipated slant, but this novel is a one-trick pony, and if you expect any more from it, you will be as disappointed as I was.  Over-long or under-plotted, I’m afraid this was just a damp squib.

FOLLOWING ON:  Read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters for a far more satisfying and less predictable period mystery.  She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon is a contemporary story which is far more convincing and clever in the way it toys with the reader’s perception of events.


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