Poor things: Alasdair Gray

poor creatures

poor creatures

poor creatures —known in English as Poor things— is a science fantasy, adventure, and comedy novel written by the late Scottish poet, artist, and author Alasdair Gray. The work was first published in 1992 by Bloomsbury Press. Much later, in 2023, it was translated into Spanish after the popularity it gained thanks to the film of the same name.

This title by the prolific Alasdair Gray is probably much better known for the award-winning film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, scripted by Tony McNamara and starring actors such as Emma Stone, Ramy Youssef, Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo. However, The novel and the film take very different philosophical, political and artistic paths.

Synopsis of Poor things

A feminist rereading of Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus

The main plot of the novel presents the story of Bella Baxter from various perspectives, a woman whose first twenty-five years of life have been relegated to the shadows. That ambiguity about her identity becomes even more complex after an editor—played by Alasdair Gray himself—finds the memoirs of Bella's late husband, Archibald McCandless.

In these documents, McCandless claims that his wife was the product of an experiment by his former mentor, Dr. Godwin Bysshe Baxter. Bella was supposedly found on the edge of the rigor mortis after committing suicide. Since the scientist did not want to steal her right to die, he transplanted the brain of the fetus she was carrying in her womb and passed her off as her orphaned niece.

The importance of Scotland in poor things

Alasdair Gray described himself as a “Scottish nationalist”, and that concept invaded all of his pictorial and literary work from its beginnings. Poor things She is not exempt from this love for her native country, but this setting becomes another narrative element of the novel. Gray took Glasgow and made it the driving force of this volume, granting him a leading role.

This is something that is noted at the beginning of the work, since it talks about respecting Bella's right to commit suicide, since reviving her could mean for her having to endure ridicule, the asylum or jail, since in the city "the Suicide is synonymous with madness or crime.” Nonetheless, McCandless describes Bella as another man's creation., while she goes so far as to affirm that these words from her husband are a pathetic statement.

The progress of a child's mind

After the surgery and subsequent “adoption” by Baxter, Bella begins to develop her cognitive abilities very quickly. This character is characterized by her curiosity about the world around her., which translates into an inherent rebellion that breaks with all the paradigms that Scottish society of the time used to impose.

In principle, it was planned that the scientist would make Bella his romantic partner, but, according to McCandless, She possessed an unwavering sexual appetite and a need to know the world. which, in the end, led her into the arms of other men and women, including Archibald himself and a petulant lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn, with whom the woman elopes.

The alleged affair with Wedderburn and Bella's argument

Later in the narrative, it is Duncan himself who “takes the floor” and reveals that he escaped from Scotland with Bella to live a love affair that fizzled out much sooner rather than later. However, after this Bella's narrative voice enters and describes her personal situation. She says she discovered poverty in Egypt, worked in a Paris brothel, and then married McCandless.

Bella's letter

At the end of the work, a letter written by Bella Baxter in 1914 is presented. In it, its author reveals that the events described in her deceased husband's narrative are false, denying that she was born under Godwin's scientific conception. According to her words, She is a reforming woman who goes by the name Victoria.

After all this bidding for the truth, the only thing that can be confirmed in Poor things is that its protagonists are unreliable, which gives the reader the opportunity to interpret the events according to his criteria, beyond what the documents “found” by Alasdair Gray express.

6 differences between the book and the movie

  1. Alasdair Gray's work takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, while Yorgos Lanthimos' film is set in London;
  2. Gray was responsible for illustrating all of his books, and always gave them an artistic style of copious black and white paintings. On the other hand, The film has an eclectic “belle époque” aesthetic. and fantastic elements that nod to HG Wells and Jules Verne;
  3. In the film, all political and philosophical aspects about Scotland and the relationship that this country has with England and the rest of the world are eliminated;
  4. The adaptation takes as its central point the primary narratives of Archibald McCandless and Duncan Wedderburn, leaving aside Bella's perception and her refutation of the previous texts;
  5. Sex, which in the book is used as a narrative resource to symbolize Bella's awakening, is much more explicit and recurring in the feature film;
  6. The end of both proposals is mutually exclusive.

About the Author

Alasdair Gray was born on December 28, 1934, in Riddrie, Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art between 1952 and 1957. During this same period he began his career as a writer. After finishing his artistic degree He worked as a portrait painter and creator of scripts for radio and television. Throughout his literary career he published stories, essays, poetry and translations.

Likewise, he wrote plays in which he combined elements of realism, boobs and science fiction. His work in the medium earned him awards such as the Guardian Fiction Award and the Saltire Awards.. Despite not being widely recognized in the rest of Europe, Gray remains a national treasure of Scotland, where his original writings are preserved, as well as all of his works of art.

Other books by Alasdair Gray


  • lanark (1981);
  • 1982, Janine (1984);
  • The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985);
  • Something Leather (1990);
  • McGrotty and Ludmilla (1990);
  • A History Maker (1994);
  • Mavis Belfrage (1996);
  • Old Men In Love (2007)

Story books

  • Unlikely stories, in general (1983);
  • Read Tales (1985);
  • Ten Tales Tall & True (1993);
  • The Ends of Our Tethers: 13 Sorry Stories (2003)

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