I've been looking forward to reading Jane Harris's second novel ever since I read her first, The Observations. I have to say that I wasn't disappointed. In fact I think I enjoyed this one even more - and that's saying something.
Harriet Baxter, sat in her London flat in 1933, is putting pen to paper and writing a book about artist Ned Gillespie. Back in 1888, we follow Harriet as she encounters the extended Gillespie family for the first time: Ned and his wife Annie; his two children, Sybil and Rose; his mother, Elspeth; his brother, Kenneth; and his sister, Mabel. Her first meeting with Elspeth is hilarious as she saves the old woman from choking on her own false teeth. Humour is peppered throughout the first third of the book but it does get very dark very quickly. Young Sybil is proving to be a difficult child, playing pranks and showing off to her grandmother. However, as the family scatters, disaster occurs and Harriet supports the family through it. Things then take a turn for the worse. Back in 1933, the elderly Harriet is dealing with her growing suspicions about her companion, Sarah. And that is all I will say on the plot! You really have to read this one and I'm not spoiling it if I can help it.
Gillespie and I is as meticulous in detail and tone as The Observations was. The two sections are neatly juxtaposed but the voice remains the same. There are also numerous small touches that combine to make this a perfectly plotted (and written) novel. The Gillespie family as we first encounter them are vividly drawn and reminded me of the family characterisation in Westwood (Stella Gibbons), which can only be a compliment as I enjoyed that book immensely. Another excellent aspect about Gillespie and I is, quite simply, the surprise factor. I challenge you to guess what's coming next.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, both subtle and compelling. I couldn't recommend it more.