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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Poor Things

Alasdair Gray

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To purchase Poor Things

Title: Poor Things
Author: Alasdair Gray
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992
Length: 317 pages
Availability: Poor Things - US
Poor Things - UK
Poor Things - Canada
Pauvres créatures - France
Arme Dinger - Deutschland
Poveracci! - Italia
  • Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D.
  • Winner of the Whitbread Award for Best Novel, 1992
  • Awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize, 1992
  • The new edition has an introduction by Janice Galloway
  • Poor Things was made into a film in 2023, directed by Yorgos Lanthimo and starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe

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Our Assessment:

A : remarkable Frankenstein-like creation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 29/8/1992 Mick Imlah
The LA Times . 9/5/1993 Merle Rubin
New Statesman & Society A+ 11/9/1992 Christopher Harvie
Newsweek A 22/3/1993 Malcolm Jones Jr.
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 28/3/1993 Geoff Ryman
The Spectator A 5/9/1992 Philip Hensher
TLS . 28/8/1992 Barbara Hardy
The Washington Post . 12/3/1993 Michael Dirda

  Review Consensus:

  Enthusiastic. Everyone is very impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gray's tireless pursuit of mischief may leave us flagging over the longer distance, but jokes like these -- visionary, ornate and outrageous -- are its unique local rewards. Poor Things is full of them." - Mick Imlah, The Independent

  • "By any standards, this is a marvellous, endearing book: a virtuoso feat of literary ventriloquism that projects literary voices from Hogg to George ("Flashman") MacDonald Fraser, while preserving its author's own dogged anarcho-socialist decency." - Christopher Harvie, New Statesman & Society

  • "Mr. Gray contrasts the political and moral bleakness of contemporary Britain with the civic energy that characterized the best of Victorian values, now lost. He underlines the harm done to Scotland. Poor Things is a political book. It is also witty and delightfully written, if at times two-dimensional. Attention to Victorian Glasgow with its civic fountains, domestic interiors and medical schools gives the book texture. It is the characters, and strangely enough its phantasmagoria, that give it life." - Geoff Ryman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "A master of pastiche and collage in words and pictures, Gray has found a way to perfectly evoke a cracked, slightly out-of-balance sense of reality." - Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek

  • "Those who, like me, are unsure if they are Alasdair Gray fans or not, ought to fall on Poor Things with delight, and not just because of the almost excessive beauty of its appearance. Though demure to the point of restraint, it is at least as witty as 1982 Janine, and even more intellectually appealing." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Poor Things is a remarkable piece of work. Presented as the memoir of a Scottish doctor, Archibald McCandless, it describes his life and that of a colleague -- the brilliant Godwin Baxter. A not-quite-Dr. Frankenstein, Baxter performs medical marvels. His greatest achievement is the creation of life: he brings to life a dead woman by transplanting the brain of the foetus she is carrying. The full-grown woman with the infant's mind, named Bella (later taking the name Victoria) is a remarkable creature.
       Designed, quite literally, to be Baxter's companion, she is sexually curious and voracious and more interested in other men -- including McCandless, whom she gets engaged to. However, she elopes with Duncan Wedderburn, travelling about the Continent and living in sin with him. Bella proves to be entirely too much for even a rake like Wedderburn, reducing him to quite a quivering, god-fearing mass. Adventures continue apace, from Odessa to Egypt to Paris, related in long letters sent by Bella.
       Ultimately, Bella returns to the fold, marrying McCandless (once it has been ascertained that she is disease-free). Ultimately, after further travails, there is a happy end, of sorts. As far as McCandless' memoirs go.
       The book, however, appends a letter, to be unsealed and read only in 1974 (sixty years after she wrote it) by Victoria "Bella" McCandless, in which she comments on McCandless' story and sets the record straight (or, if you wish, skews it further). Needless to say, she sees things quite differently, a sharp turn of events that casts everything that came before in quite a different light.
       Finally, there are also "Notes Critical and Historical" by the ostensible editor of the volume, Alasdair Gray, providing further information, background, and mystery.
       Beautifully designed and illustrated, this volume is a marvel. A brief summary of the plot does little justice to it: the art is in Gray's presentation, in his words and his style(s). This is a novel about morality and science and sex and politics and Scotland and many things more. It is also a work of literature. Gray writes very well, employing a variety of voices and approaches, each one pitch-perfect and spot on. He manages here to be incredibly funny and deathly earnest, and to present a book that is, from beginning to end, entertaining. Highly recommended.

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Poor Things: Reviews: Poor Things - the movie: Alasdair Gray Other books by Alasdair Gray under review: Books about Alasdair Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       Scottish author Alasdair Gray was born in 1934. A noted illustrator and author, he has written a number of remarkable works of fiction.

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