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Poor Things (British Literature) Paperback – January 17, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The full title of this work, Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D. Scottish Public Health Officer, reflect a bit of wacky genius at work here. Someone named Alasdair Gray has found a memoir supposedly of a 19th-century public health officer in Glasgow. The truth of the memoir is suspect, nevertheless Gray manages to change it and then lose it. And that's just the backdrop. Inside the memoir is the story of McCandless, an acquaintance named Godwyn Bysshe Baxter who takes a suicide victim, gives her the brain of her unborn child to create a promiscuous and brutal girlfriend. The book, which won the 1992 Guardian Fiction Prize, takes off from there. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the 1992 Whitbread Prize, Scottish writer Gray's ( Something Leather ) black comedy uses a science-fiction-like premise to satirize Victorian morals. Ostensibly the memoirs of late-19th-century Glasgow physician Archibald McCandless, the narrative follows the bizarre life of oversexed, volatile Bella Baxter, an emancipated woman and a female Frankenstein. Bella is not her real name; as Victorian Blessington, she drowned herself to escape her abusive husband, but a surgeon removed the brain from the fetus she was carrying and placed it in her skull, resucitating her. The revived Bella has the mental age of a child. Engaged to marry McCandless, she chloroforms him and runs off with a shady lawyer who takes her on a whirlwind adventure, hopping from Alexandria to Odessa to a Parisian brothel. As her brain matures, Bella develops a social conscience, but her rescheduled nuptials to Archie are cut short when she is recognized as Victoria by her lawful husband, Gen. Sir Aubrey Blessington. In an epilogue dated 1914, cranky idealist Victoria McCandless, M.D., a suffragette, Fabian socialist, pacifist and advocate of birthing stools, pokes holes in her late husband Archie's narrative. Illustrated with Gray's suitably macabre drawings, this work of inspired lunacy effectively skewers class snobbery, British imperialism, prudishness and the tenets of received wisdom. Author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: British Literature
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (January 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564783073
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564783073
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on January 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I make it my job to read some pretty weird books--as an aficionado of science fiction and fantasy, I sometimes run into some doozies-- but this novel by Gray has to be one of the strangest that I've run into recently. The fact that this novel was not published in the genre, and won a couple of mainstream awards makes me wonder what else I'm missing in the "mundane" fiction shelves.
Poor Things is supposedly non-fiction, as illustrated by its full title on the title page: "Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, Edited by Alasdair Gray." But this is all part of its mystique. Gray has constructed a literary puzzle, a Frankenstein's monster of a book that takes its inspiration from that novel by Mary Shelley as well as the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells. McCandless is the titular biographer, but the story is actually that of the eccentric Scottish doctor Godwin Baxter and his "creation," Bella Baxter, later known as Dr. Victoria McCandless. Set in Glasgow in the 1880s, the plot entails how McCandless met Baxter, how he then met Baxter's protege Bella and fell in love with her, her subsequent departure, and the circumstances of her return. To reveal any more would be to dilute the heavy stuff of the novel's innovative twists.
If Gray were writing with the Fantasy label stuck on the spine of his books, I would have termed this one a "steampunk" novel for its revisionist look at medicine and technology in a pre-auto world. Fans of Tim Powers and James Blaylock should definitely check this one out.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Blaid on October 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
I just finished the book a few hours ago and it's the best book I've read in a while. "Poor Things" is the story of a lonely doctor, Godwin, who reanimates a beautiful woman's body who commited suicide (in a unique Frankenstein-esque fashion). Godwin's creation was meant to be for his own selfish desire but like every Frankenstein story it goes horribly awry. The books goes into detail bringing you into points of view from every character, not letting you forgot what happened, and using excellent foreshadowing. Make sure you read the extra writings at the end of the book to get the full impact of Alisdair Gray's skills.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lance on April 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed Poor Things very much. Alasdair Gray has a great skill for writing from/for the female perspective. His recurrent theme of women's independence can be seen in both Lanark and 1982, Janine; both of which are better books than this one. But I shouldn't hold Gray's prolificness against this book, so it still gets 4 stars. Fans of Gray will enjoy this novel, but I wouldn't recommend this to first-time Gray readers. Sure, it's not as weird* as the other two books I named, and in that regard might be a bit more accessible to some, but more importantly it lacks the power of those two books (Lanark and 1982, Janine).

What we have here is another excellent book by one of the greatest living authors. It's good to see this book winning some awards and getting Gray (some of) the recognition he deserves.

*this book is still pretty weird.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
'Poor Things' is the perfect example of how Gray understands the power of the medium he works in. Just as two poets could destroy the Eastern Empire in 'Unlikely Stories, Mostly', Gray playfully toys with the reader's perception of reality and truth and how it is influenced by the media. Rather than being the author of Poor Things, Gray purports to be merely an editor, who has discovered a manuscript and letter, which he presents for the reader's examination. His personae in this instance implies that the novel has been 'received' rather than 'created'. This lends the rather bizarre proceedings a strange air of credibility, and stops the reader pondering over the likelihood of some of the more extraordinary events occurring. For example, Baxter's "skeely, skeely fingers" performing the "skilfully manipulated resurrection" of a young woman is the stuff of fairy tales, but due to Gray's web of fibs, it is understood as a rational medical discovery rather than a magical act. The main body of the book is presented as a first-person narrative, written by one Archibald McCandless. In it, he describes how an eccentric friend creates a woman from a dead body, in the manner of Baron Frankenstein. However, a letter accompanying the narrative (according to Gray) states that it is little more than a pack of lies. The letter has been written by the very woman who the narrative covered. On top of this confusion, Gray has annotated and analysed the text, and professes to believe the original narrative as true. In this fashion, the novel is as 'stitched together' as Bella herself, every 'fact' seems to be contradicted later, true history is marred by pure fiction, almost making it impossible to separate truth from falsehood.Read more ›
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By Scarmoge on September 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a kooky story, told with warmth and charm. Gray's imagination is never less than fecund and highly flavoured, his characters are so real you can smell them. Another reviewer mentioned that there's a distinct flavour of Scot, but it doesn't get in the way of the text so don't let it put you off. He reminds me of Anthony Burgess in terms of his sense of fun, confidence and style, and the way he will make a story into something original and lovely of his own. Enjoy the ride.
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