Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Title: Gillespie and I
Author: Jane Harris

Genre: Fiction (British / Scottish / 19th century / Artists / Unreliable Narrator / Missing Children / Secret Identities)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (1/31/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved like I wanted to marry it!
Did I finish?: Yes, inhaled over a matter of days.
One-sentence summary: Elderly Harriet Baxter puts down in writing the events from her tumultuous time in Glasgow in the late 1880s while facing another mystery of her own.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I love it: it's striking, and kind of creepy, and reflects elements from the novel.

I'm reminded of...: A.S. Byatt, Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters

First line: It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie.

Did... I get up early three mornings to have more time to read?: YES, and this was after staying up wicked late to keep reading. (Perhaps why my cold was prolonged. Ooops!)

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: BUY, get this book, read it, love it!

Why did I get this book?: I couldn't tell you why I got this book -- the cover -- and the mention of Bloomsbury. I am so grateful I did because this book was astounding!

Review: Three things: one, Jane Harris, where have you been all my life?; two, imagine Shirley Jackson meets A.S. Byatt, with a little Sarah Waters and Zoe Heller thrown in, all set in Scotland, and you've got the feel of the story; and three, I loved this book.

I'm sort of just going to flail and squee, and I'm not sure how helpful this review will be.  Sorry!

In brief: this novel had everything I love in a great book -- wonderful writing, real characters, and a compelling plot that surprised me -- and I hated having to put it down.  It's a meaty chunkster that races along, but honestly, could have been twice the length and I would have cheerfully kept reading.

Set in the 1930s, the story is told by Harriet Baxter, an Englishwoman reflecting on her time in Glasgow in the late 1880s, during the International Expo.  While there, she befriends Ned Gillespie and his family: his wife Annie, his mother Elspeth, his sister Mabel and brother Kenneth, and his daughters, Sibyl and Rose.  Ned's star is rising and Harriet is eager to help him achieve the fame he deserves.  She becomes a family confidante of sorts and as a result, is with the family during a horrific tragedy that deeply impacts all of them.

The thing with the story is that Harriet doesn't feel totally solid as a narrator.  She's very self-complimentary, filled with importance, and from the first page, I doubted her.  As time went on, however, she grew on me, and I assumed she was just fussy, until--

But I'm going to stop there.  I don't want to give away anything. 

This is a historical novel for those who hate historical fiction. There's no royal scandal (but there's a great mystery) or sweeping romance. Harris' story is set squarely in Victorian Glasgow with the mores, behavior, and values, and nothing feels anachronistic or out-of-step.  The crimes of the late 1880s -- Jack the Ripper, the Arran murder -- are in the background along with the wonder and beauty of the International Expo and the Scottish art scene.  

I don't mean to be coy about the plot but I don't want to spoil the fun for anyone.  This was such a delicious, gripping novel -- get it.  If you like suspicious old ladies and Victorian crimes, insidiously lovely writing that is blackly amusing and plot twists that sneak up on you, then this is your book. 

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Gillespie and I to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/24.

40 comments:

  1. ooh, this sounds fascinating...is it gothic too!

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    1. It's not gothic-y since there isn't a supernatural element -- but it is twisted and dark and atmospheric -- very reminiscent of Sarah Waters' novels for me (only less sapphic).

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  2. Behold! as I enter your giveaway because of your glowing review.

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    1. You will not regret that life choice. I wish I could give a copy to everyone!

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    1. Seriously, that good. Mind-blowing! :)

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  4. You got up early to have more reading time? That's all I need to hear ;-)

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    1. Exactly! Sleep was meaningless compared to this book! :)

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  5. It says a lot when a book is already long and you wouldn't care if it was longer. I'll definitely keep my eye out for this one!

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  6. I had not heard much of this book, but your review is hard to ignore! I need to read this one, it seems, as it has all the hallmarks that would make it a great read for me. By the way, I loved the enthusiasm and enticement of this review. It's not often that I see such love shine out of a review like this. Great job with it!

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    1. Heather, thank you -- I'm afraid sometimes that my reviews will be so squee-rific they're useless. The reasons I like a book can be super vague, or in this case, all encompassing -- so many good things done so well. I hope you do get this one -- I think you'd love it.

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  7. Your excitement for the book made me giddy and I've never even read it, but will be adding it to the TBR. Plus, the cover is gorgeous.

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    1. The cover is *so* striking -- do, do add to your TBR -- I can't get over how much fun this book was!

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  8. I liked the cover from first glance but at first, the story didn't do much for me but after reading your comments... I HAVE to have it! I must win it. I must.

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    1. Yeah, the jacket blurb sort of made me think of a Major Pettigrew's Memoirs-type book, an old lady's hazy look at her rosy years -- but it's so not that. Oh no. It's dark and fun and evocative and and and!! :)

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  9. I just started this one last night and am so excited to read it. It's wonderful to hear you gush, and now I just want to curl up and finish it!

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    1. I'm so glad you're reading this -- I thought of you while reading -- I hope you dig it. It's SUCH a curl-up-in-bed read!

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  10. Love the flailing and squeeing!!! Exactly how I felt when I read it. A top favourite for 2011 and I'm so glad you loved it too.

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  11. The cover alone puts this one on my radar (gorgeous - I love the colors used) but your review is, as always, what cements my desire to read this. I lovelovelove unreliable narrators and Harriet sounds right up my alley!

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  12. I love the look of the cover and your review really made me interested in the storyline. Love Gothic mysteries.

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  13. This just came in for me at the library... I am excited! I really love Jane Harris and this one in particular sounds so good.

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    1. Steph -- I can't wait to hear what you think of this one -- I thought of you when reading it -- it's going such unreliable narrator-ness-ness happening!

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  14. This one sounds good! I love Gothic novels so I'll have to give this one a try.

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  15. I'm excited that you loved this book since I'm reviewing it next week. It sounds fantastic. I laughed when you said you don't know why you got this book because I'm not sure why I did, either, but something about it spoke to me....and I'm glad it did!
    Thank you for a terrific review!

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  16. I like Byatt and Heller, so thus sounds very good.

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  17. Someone needs to tell Raych about this book!

    "flail and squee" Ahahaha. The only thing you left out was muppet arms! With love like this, how could I not buy it for my Nook?

    So glad you loved the book! Thanks for being on the tour.

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    1. Trish -- I'm so glad you have exactly the image that I had in my head -- the muppet arms were implied! ;) I can't wait to hear what you think of this when you get to it -- I'm kind of dying for a reread already!

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  18. I am absolutely convinced. If I don't win, I am soooo going to pick this one up! Thanks, Audra!

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    1. Col -- I so wish I could put a copy in everyone's hands. Such.awesomeness.

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  19. I think I might have been the only person in the world who was disappointed with The Observations, but that being said, I've heard so many good things about this one that it's been on the wish-list for a while. I plan to "read" it in audiobook. Do you think it would work well in that format?

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    1. I suspect the audiobook would be smashing -- if I did audiobooks I'd love to try this one, especially if the narrator/reader was any good. I too have heard a few people who weren't wild about The Observations -- I can't compare this to that but G&I just blew my socks off. It's kind of ruined all other books this week.

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  20. audra she also wrote (a couple years ago) a fantastic novel called the observations. i highly recomnend it. funny and riveting. i have gillespie and i but haven't read it yet. it will be my next read based on your sparkling review. thank you.

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  21. audra she also wrote (a couple years ago) a fantastic novel called the observations. i highly recomnend it. funny and riveting. i have gillespie and i but haven't read it yet. it will be my next read based on your sparkling review. thank you.

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  22. audra she also wrote (a couple years ago) a fantastic novel called the observations. i highly recomnend it. funny and riveting. i have gillespie and i but haven't read it yet. it will be my next read based on your sparkling review. thank you.

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    1. I'm so getting The Observations -- I cannot wait. I'm so ready to reread this one -- honestly, I envy everyone who's reading it for the first time!

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  23. Great review.... I know this will be one of my favorite books of the year. I don't think I enjoyed myself more in a long time.

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    1. Agreed -- I could easily reread it right now -- this one has definitely made my top ten of 2012!

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  24. I am really looking forward to reading this book. I enjoyed The Observations when I read it a few years ago, and have heard nothing but good about this one!

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