Gillespie and I
I had read so many of the accounts of this story before I picked up this book, but for some reason, I didn’t fully believe them. All of the talk about how it becomes something that you would never expect had me shaking my head in disbelief. That being said, they were absolutely on point and I really want to tell you how much Harris took me by surprise and why, but I can’t do that without stealing some of your enjoyment from the story and it’s just too good to do that to you. Therefore, I won’t ruin it for you, but I will tell you that this story is compelling, unexpected, and magnificently enthralling all at the same time. The characters are finely wrought and just ambiguous enough to allow for a stunning plot filled with shifting loyalties.
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.
I’m not going to lie, my main reaction to this story upon finishing it was: thank god for the women’s liberation movement. This story re-affirmed my adoration for the women who fought first for my right to vote and then for my right to not be a housewife. It seemed ludicrous to me that a woman could be placed in such a severely horrible position for no other reason than her nationality and the fact that she was an independently well off, single woman. Thank you Susan B. Anthony for making a world in which my independence doesn’t make me into a target.
As to the story, Harris weaves a subtle tapestry for Harriet. There were times when I kind of wanted her to leave the Gillespies alone, if for no other reason than her platonic appreciation of Ned’s work periodically sauntered into mildly inappropriate territory. The number of times she said that she cherished the times when she was alone with him completely weirded me out. Even in this day and age, it wouldn’t be completely okay for a married man to be hanging out with a woman who cherished the their alone time. It’s a little questionable. Admittedly, I spent most of my time enjoying Harriet’s character. She seemed quite remarkable considering her circumstances. But Harris’ mastery lies in how she makes you question the intentions of every character. It’s not done is such a way that you become tired of the characters. If anything it makes them more believable because in real life, no one is just one way all the time. Everybody has shades of gray.
In the end, this is a truly compelling tale that somehow manages to be addicting and lyrical at the same time.
4 ink bottles.