Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D. Scottish Public Health Officer Hardcover – Mar 1993
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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.
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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.
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.