THOSE familiar with the work of the late Glaswegian polymath Alasdair Gray were unanimously excited upon the news that his 1992 novel Poor Things was set to be adapted for the big screen by odd-ball filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster).

In spite of a few setbacks, the film is scheduled to come out in the UK on January 12, 2024.

While its promotion campaign thus far has largely sparked anticipation among potential viewers (vibrantly colourful images, the unique style of dialogue Lanthimos is known for, and the star-studded cast featuring Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo among others), it is not without controversy.

The initial sub-one-minute trailer raised questions about the film’s truth to the novel, sparked by the director’s decision to remove the narrative from the distinctly Glaswegian locale that characterises large sections of the novel – not to mention, the unfortunate neglect to feature Gray’s name (thankfully included in later trailers).

With Poor Things being a loose re-writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein premised on its resituating of the setting to Glasgow, it alters the concept quite considerably to change this.

Sorcha Dallas of the Alasdair Gray Archive points out the agreement for optioning the rights to Poor Things was hinged on the condition Tony McNamara (co-screenwriter of The Favourite) was set to adapt the text.

Dallas (below) states that “the new film therefore would be an interpretation of the novel, and I think Alasdair would have been aware of this and OK with it as throughout his own creative life he interpreted and used other works in this way too”.

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Dallas continues: “However, I am sure he would have felt that as Glasgow is a main character in the book, that this would warrant a version that was true to the text in that sense and made in Scotland.

“It’s no doubt a shame that the film neglects to use Glasgow in the same way, but as a variation on the theme – which Poor Things is itself – we must hope the novel is truthfully represented in other important ways.”

The Alasdair Gray Archive is working to reconcile this misgiving by creating an online educational resource that hopes to root Poor Things back in the city that inspired it. Ahead of the film’s release, a new edition of the novel has been published by Bloomsbury (which also published the first edition).

Controversy struck upon the reveal of a new cover, featuring not the original Gray illustration that has fronted the novel in every edition since 1992 but instead a shot of Emma Stone playing Bella in the film.

While on the surface this shouldn’t ruffle many feathers – it is commonplace to reproduce novels set for film adaptation with a new cover fronted by a still from the cinematic feature – yet, for an Alasdair Gray novel, this edges further from misdemeanour towards crime.

Alongside his writing, Gray is a renowned artist who without fail produced stunning images to accompany his literature.

This edition of Poor Things is only the third English language Gray release not to have his art on the cover (after a Penguin edition of The Fall of Kelvin Walker and a Picador edition of Something Leather). For many, this causes offence and is seen as a slight on the legacy of an artist so strong in his belief of the adamantine connection between his literature and the art he creates for it.

If it were not for the unfortunate passing of Gray in late 2019, it is hard to imagine this republication would have been allowed to go ahead as it has.

Of course, this new cover is not without merit. It follows that an image from a blockbuster film – soon to be plastered on billboards and buses alike, not to mention social media and pre-screening ads in cinemas – will attract the eyes of otherwise potential readers.

Plenty of people would contend that a promotional campaign that increases the readership of an author is worth the sacrifice of a little part of that author’s legacy. Once again, though, it must be highlighted quite how much Gray was devoted to using his artwork as not an adornment of but as an important part of his literature.

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Thankfully the internal text remains the same, featuring original illustrations, page titles and a contents table.

So, are the potential sales attracted by a new cover worth the removal of Gray’s iconic image?

It is worth bearing in mind that John Mullan of The Guardian wrote of Gray’s work in 2007: “[S]uch illustration measures the author’s presence, extracting what most matters.”