Lanark: A Life in Four Books

Author(s): Alasdair Gray

Fiction - Contemporary

Lanark, a modern vision of hell, is set in the disintegrating cities of Unthank and Glasgow, and tells the interwoven stories of Lanark and Duncan Thaw. A work of extraordinary imagination and wide range, its playful narrative techniques convey a profound message, both personal and political, about humankind's inability to love, and yet our compulsion to go on trying. Widely recognised as a modern classic, Alasdair Gray's magnum opus was first published in 1981 and immediately established him as one of Britain's leading writers. Comparisons have been made to Dante, Blake, Joyce, Orwell, Kafka, Huxley and Lewis Carroll. This timely new edition should cement his reputation as one of our greatest living writers.

This big novel is almost every kind of novel rolled into one. Half the book is a realist narrative, that of Duncan Thaw’s childhood and life as a student at the Glasgow School of Art, where his obsessive artistic vision and his inability to develop satisfactory relationships lead him through madness to drowning himself in the sea. This (largely autobiographical)bildungsroman is wrapped in a quite different kind of narrative, that of the character Lanark who arrives (with sand and seashells in his pockets) in the city of Unthank, a kind of sunlightless unterGlasgow, where he falls in with a group of people he is completely unable to relate to and develops dragonhide, a disease (enlarging perhaps on Duncan Thaw’s eczema) that turns his skin to scales (manifesting his emotional repression). Eventually Lanark is swallowed by the earth and finds himself at the Institute, a sort of hospital where people are supposedly cured of their metaphorical diseases (dragonhide, softs, mouths, twittering rigours (it is fun at parties to classify people by these diseases)). When Lanark discovers that hopeless cases are used for food (the blancmangy substance he has been eating) he determines to leave, and eventually returns to Unthank, which is descending into an apocalypse he is powerless to prevent. Pinned out by an ‘epilogue’ in which the Lanark argues his fate with the author (‘Nastler’), and an Index of Plagiarisms,Lanark is the bicameral tale of a man “bad at loving”, both in the ‘real’ world and in one in which his neuroses are externalised and made concrete. - Thomas


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With an introduction by William Boyd

Alasdair Gray is, in his own words, an old, asthmatic Glaswegian who lives by painting, writing and book design. William Boyd is the author of nine novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; and Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year, the Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year and a Richard & Judy selection. His most recent novel, Ordinary Thunderstorms, was published in 2009 and film rights have already been sold. William Boyd lives in London.

General Fields

  • : 9780857861788
  • : Canongate Books Ltd
  • : Canongate Canons
  • : August 2011
  • : 198mm X 129mm X 37mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Alasdair Gray
  • : BC
  • : 1
  • : 823.914
  • : 592
  • : Illustrations