I wanted to love this book. On the face of it, it ticks off a lot of boxes that appeal to me. It could be that my mind is unfocused right now because a lot is going on at home, but I really think there is a problem with this book. I’d never heard of it before the movie came out and maybe I know why. It’s tedious and pedantic.
Poor Things is a kind of Mary Shelley Frankenstein story where the “monster” is a young woman created by a strange scientist named Godwin Baxter, aka God. That’s not too on the nose, is it? The conceit is that a modern day collector has found a previously unknown manuscript, a diary written by a Scottish doctor who was married to Bella Baxter, aka the monster. The diary contains his account of the circumstances surrounding the creation of Bella and how she went from a beautiful woman with the mind of a child to a successful female doctor who, for reasons we are meant to learn later, objects to the content of this diary, considering it a fabrication or sign of madness. What appealed to me: historical fiction, a reimagined classic, and presenting a familiar story from a new (and female) point of view. My problem with it: it just plods along and the author does a lot of “telling” versus “showing.” I made it half way through and quit out of indifference and boredom.
The story starts from the 19th-century perspective of Archibald McCandless, MD, aka “Candle,” (I bet he’s going to shine a light for Bella!) and we get his backstory — from poor means, an outcast at med school because of it but a successful doctor nonetheless. As a student Candle befriended the oddball Godwin. Godwin is the son of a respected medical man but does not fit in at med school either and conducts his own weird experiments at home. As a son of privilege, he can do as he pleases, and while Candle is disgusted by some of Godwin’s experiments, when he meets Bella — the woman God reanimated after she committed suicide (while 9 months pregnant)— he falls in love with her immediately. They get engaged, but Bella, a woman/child of strong appetites, runs off with the rogue lawyer Wedderburn, aka Wed, and thus begins a Bildungsroman in which Bella encounters various types of men who try to teach her their theories about the world, history and the ways of men. This is where I got bored. Bella is an interesting character who doesn’t get enough time in the spotlight. Too much of her time is wrapped up in the men she is with, and they just aren’t that interesting. They are “types” who constantly feel the need to explain themselves and their ideas to Bella and the reader.
Part of me wants to know what is going to happen when Bella discovers her past and where her own brain came from, but I don’t care enough to slog through the rest of the story. Good luck to you if you pick this one up.