This week's BooK NooK article is brought to us by Munchkin and certainly looks like a fun (albeit daunting) read. Enjoy!
Poor Things is a true story. At least that is what Alasdair Gray claims. It is a faithful reprint of a vanity published work by a Scottish Doctor at the end of the Nineteenth Century. This doctor, Archie McCandless, tells of a woman, Bell Baxter, who is brought back from the dead with a fresh, empty, brain replacing her old one. This miracle is brought about by Godwin Baxter, one of the strangest Mad Scientists ever created. His very appearance makes babies scream and his voice can make you wince in pain. Dr. McCandless further tells of Bell's voyages of discovery, both mental and physical, as she travels the world finding all that is wrong with late Victorian society.
Alasdair Gray believes this story. However, in the interests of fairness, he has also reprinted a letter, which accompanied the original manuscript. In this, Dr. Victoria McCandless (who admits to using the name Bell Baxter for various reasons) relates how Archie McCandless was a buffoon, affected by the worst excesses of the late Victorian period. She further states that Archie's entire story is a lie, including Godwin Baxter being a loving and kind person that all fall in love with at the drop of a hat.
The Editor/Author then goes on to list Historical Facts that apparently prove Archie's story over Victoria's/Bell's.
So, who is telling the truth, Archie, Bell, Alasdair? Are any of them? This is the central point around which a superb story revolves. All the classics of the era appear: Empire Builders with strange fetishes; humble housekeepers; self-made men, desperate to prove they are part of High Society; obsessed medics in upstairs laboratories; hapless innocents; level-headed, forward thinking Englishmen who may really be spies; philosophical Russians; overly enthusiastic Americans; and worthless lawyers. All these are thrown into the pot to produce a story that probes all facets of life and leaves you thinking of them in a very different light.
I highly recommend this book, although you may want to read it more than once to get it all. If you like this, I also recommend Lanark: A Life in Four Books by the same author. This was once voted the best novel by a living Scottish author. Be warned though, its a bit (Poor Things)^2.
Poor Things by Alasdair Gray. Published in the UK by Penguin ISBN 0-14-017554-7