Harriet Baxter is a sprightly young creature, a woman of generous means alone in Glasgow during the 1888 International Exhibition, when the city bustled with newcomers and there was something spectacular to see every day. One day, while window-shopping on Buchanan Street, Harriet spots an older woman in a black bonnet lying on the sidewalk, a younger woman kneeling beside her. Thinking at first it is a bit of open-air theater, she moves closer, only to find that the older woman is no longer breathing, her lips blue. Harriet acts quickly and pops the woman's dentures out from her throat, instantly restoring her to good health. "Have we been introduced, madam?" the older woman asks faintly. Just like that, the novel is launched in a tone of innocent, light-hearted comedy.
In gratitude, the woman invites her to tea to meet her son, Ned Gillespie, who is also the younger...
Beyond the Book
Jane Harris sets her novel Gillespie and I
at a time when Scotland felt it was ready for its close-up. The International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry took place in Glasgow from May to November in 1888 at Kelvingrove Park on the banks of the River Kelvin (image below, left). It was the country's bid for prominence in the industrial age, following the "world fair" model established by the enormously popular Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
Its main purpose was to highlight Scottish contributions to industry and applied science, especially to that which made Scotland a distinctive force of Empire: ship-building, engines, and ships' accommodations. Even the Orientalism of much of its architecture - the Main Building (image below, center) was called "Baghdad...