My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame that she maintains he deserved.
It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand?
Back in 1888, the young, art-loving Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes - leading to a notorious criminal trial - the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disintegrate into mystery and deception.
Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a powerful and haunting second novel from one of today’s most striking new voices.
My take: Even as I type, I don't know how to write this review. I think I will approach it as a book club book. I would strongly suggest that, if you are a book cheater (like myself), don't look ahead with this one. Don't look for spoilers. You know that moment in A Beautiful Mind when Russell Crow is challenged about his mental stability while his roommate sits in the corner and cries? I needed about 30 more seconds to process the scene before I came to the conclusion myself that his roommate wasn't real before my husband announced that tidbit to me.
I felt robbed of a moment.
Similarly, the twists in this book are unexpected and not crystallized. It is only after adding all of the pieces together that the reader will come to a different conclusion than s/he did two thirds of the way through the book. And it is only with some reservation at first. Then the cloudy clarifies and a disturbing picture emerges. The book is much more disturbing with the real life backdrop of Josh Powell and the horrific events of this week.
Book review ideas for discussion:
- Note the times when the protagonist makes reference to pregnancy or breast feeding or any kind of incubation. Note the part of the wooden horse that is scorched. What attitude might Harriet have regarding motherhood or having children?
- How would the reader describe the protagonist's relationship with her father? Are the feelings reciprocal? Any Freudian ideas?
- Once the kidnapping occurred, which character(s) were suspicious both in the current time and in hindsight?
- When was the AHA moment for you? Did it occur after or before the end of the book. Are you still waiting for it?
- What was the significance of the birds? What of the cage?
- I have typed the next question five times. Each time, it was a different question but I thought it gave too much away. I am trying my art of subtlety. I am not very good at it.
It is a very well written book that will leave the reader feeling unsettled and looking for earlier clues. They are there but very subtle. In hindsight, the explanations provided from the particular POV sort of made sense but became more and more frantic.