Gillespie and I: a Victorian entanglement

Written as a memoir, Gillespie and I is an account of a spinster's tragic entanglement with the family of a struggling painter in 19th century Glasgow.

It is 1888, and Harriet Baxter, a spinster on the wrong side of 30, escapes to Glasgow to recuperate after the death of her only close relative.

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Jane Harris's Gillespie and I appears to be an account of Harriet's subsequent entanglement with the family of Ned Gillespie, a struggling painter of some talent, who we learn later killed himself and burnt his canvases.

Written as a memoir, with the narrator now in her 80s, the novel affects the genteel manners of a Victorian lady, until the Gillespie family is plunged into turmoil by the behaviour of Sibyl, their eldest daughter.

As the child's conduct descends from wilful naughtiness to borderline psychosis, the Gillespies are pushed over the edge by the disappearance of Rose, their youngest daughter.

When Harriet is arrested as the instigator of the crime, the reader's conviction of her innocence is tested by the realisation that not everything is as it seems, as the book takes an unexpectedly bleak turn.

Harris, whose first novel, The Observations, was shortlisted for the Orange prize, has followed it with a darkly humorous work that repays the reader's investment in its 500 pages.