I’ve just finished reading Alasdair Gray’s novel ‘Poor Things’ and really enjoyed it.
In 1881, Archie McCandless is introduced to the enigmatic and alluring Bella Baxter by his friend, the grotesque medical genius Godwin Baxter, whose secret knowledge has led him, via some unethical experiments involving rabbits, to attempt the most daring of all medical conquests. Archie’s book-length account of the first few years of their acquaintance is either an outrageous fiction or outrageous fact.
The book he writes is framed with ephemera including editorial notes, biographical details, letters, timelines and pictures, detailing the discovery of the book and an argument concerning its veracity – between Gray himself and the local historian who unearthed the manuscript.
As always with Gray, it’s all brilliantly playful, full of tales within tales and a wealth of tiny, nonsensical details that blur the boundaries between fact, fiction and fabrication.
This is a scene from the story within a story that struck me as a particularly good one to draw: Godwin Baxter’s tragic response to learning his hopes for the future have been irrevocably dashed.
“Then came the most terrifying experience of my life. The only part of Baxter which moved was his mouth. It slowly and silently opened into a round hole bigger than the original size of his head then grew larger still until his head vanished behind it. His body seemed to support a black, expanding, tooth fringed cavity in the scarlet sunset behind him. When the scream came the whole sky seemed to be screaming. I clapped my hands to my ears before this happened so did not faint as Bella did, but the single high-pitched note sounded everywhere and pierced the brain like a dental drill piercing a tooth without anaesthetic. I lost most of my senses during that scream.”
– Poor Things by Alasdair Gray