Book Reviews
Lanark: Alasdair Gray
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on Lanark: Alasdair Gray
Lanark: Alasdair Gray

The subtitle of Lanark is ‘A Life in Four Books,’ and although there seems almost to be more than four books here, or if not then a smaller number of divided books, one has the sense that two complete and totally separate books could have been made from the whole, although that’s not to say they should have been.

Lanark begins with book three, most of which takes place in a surreal world where one senses that anything could happen. There’s a prodigious imagination at work here, and one can only read on in fascination wondering who or what the central character Lanark is, and hoping to find out.

Books one and two follow, and chronicle the life of Thaw in a recognisable Glasgow from childhood to death, by way of sex, art, religion and obsession. It reminded me of Patrick White’s The Vivisector and The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Carey, and undercurrents of myth and literature run through this section (as through the other parts) that made me wish I’d had a Classical education. At one point Thaw, who seems not only to be Lanark but also Alasdair Gray himself (as the detail in this section feels overwhelmingly autobiographical ), is asked by the registrar of the School of Art what he’d like to do. When he replies that he’d like to write a modern Divine Comedy with illustrations in the style of William Blake it seems like a message directly from the lips of the author and a clue to the objectives of the book itself.

Which is why, on reaching the epilogue, which occurs roughly five sixths of the way though the book, I laughed with sheer delight to find Lanark confronting his fictional author, who then insisted on listing each act of carefully defined plagiarism and explaining how the book had come to be and what it meant.

After this epilogue the story continues, but after a while seems to slow and lose impetus. I was left feeling that the author had said everything he wanted to say, and perhaps that was slightly too much for me. Yet this is a definitely a great work, with masterly prose that carries the reader on feeling that s/he is in safe hands. One of those books to which you return to make new discoveries.

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