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Lanark (1981)

by Alasdair Gray

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1,731307,207 (4.01)85
'Probably thegreatest novel of the century'Observer 'Remarkable . . . A work of loving and vivid imagination, yielding copious riches'WILLIAM BOYD 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. First published in 1981, Lanark immediately established Gray as one of Britain's leading writers.… (more)
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English (29)  French (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Strangely unbalanced throughout. At times I was so bored I considered putting the book aside for good without having finished it, sometimes I was so enthralled I could hardly stop reading even if I no longer had the time to continue. ( )
  Stravaiger64 | Sep 27, 2020 |
Alasdair Gray notes in the Epilogue section, strangely on p. 493 of his 560 page novel: " A possible explanation is that the author thinks a heavy book will make a bigger splash than two light ones. This note, well the entire section, appears to reconcile the disparate narratives which occupy the novel. Seldom have I ever encountered such polarizing sections; the Thaw scenes I absolutely loved and the Lanark/Unthank episodes were perfectly dreadful. The latter was likely intentional, portraits of hell should be infernal, I suppose.

Digressions and comparisons ensue. The artist's failure to love is mirrored with Hell's thwarting of contentment. I see that. It does beg some reflection.

It was good novel for one's birthday week, especially while entertaining dear visitors from overseas. It was a whirlwind of trips and laughs. A beer or two may have been swallowed along the way. Lanark was good for all that. Folks were taken back to the airport. The heat actually left the area and this allowed the delegate theme at the end to be absorbed without enkindling any serial rage.

Lanarks works and it is good to love and endure.
( )
1 vote jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
(Original Review, 1981-03-10)

I don't have problem with intertextual interpretation as such. It's only that I've always seen reading as a collaborative process between an author and a reader. If you look at it that way, it makes you wonder which parts of deep reading “Lanark” come from the mind of Alasdair Gray and which come from the attic of your own subconscious. I also wonder if it matters which mind it comes from, at least when reading fiction.

I've, finally, got around to finishing the last few chapters of “Lanark”, and found the wonderful bit at the end where the “Alasdair Gray” appears in his own work having a conversation with his hero. He explains the sources of his writing and ends up apologising to his character for having to end the book the way he feels he must. He includes the line 'a parade of irrelevant erudition through grotesquely inflated footnotes' to describe the list of intertextual references he used in his novel. There is something characteristically Glaswegian about the humour in that whole chapter.

I think that's what made me start considering the value of hunting out references against letting a work stand by itself as separate entity. It reminds me of Hammett who does seem to avoid places where he could insert deeper meaning in the text. His performance of Shylock might be related to the character of Cairo, but it is a fleeting touch, not the heavy reference of Lowry's “Hands of Orlac.”
Over the last years or so I've been gradually reading “Ulysses”. Sometimes I can skip over the surface enjoying the beauty of the language. At other times I can sink without a trace, following references into the depths until I am studying and not reading. At present rate of progress, it will probably take me another twenty years to finish it, but I'm never going to have fully 'deep read' it. Perhaps just like “Lanark”. ( )
2 vote antao | Dec 6, 2018 |
It had some really fascinating bits, and it was definitely a worthwhile read. I wish I hadn't been on a deadline to finish it, though, because it is a very long book (560 pages) and I would have preferred to take my time.

There were definitely parts where it dragged on and on, but those were balanced out by the rest of the book. I felt as though the entire book kept me fluctuating between the two extremes, where one minute I'd be enthralled and in the next bit I'd be bored (or sometimes confused). ( )
1 vote whatsmacksaid | Sep 21, 2018 |
Lanark is an autobiographical novel composed of four books: books 1 and 2 are in the middle supported on either side by book 3 at the beginning and then book 4 at the end. Books 3 and 4 are dystopian, the story of the man named Lanark who lives in the city of Unthank. They depict his struggle to understand class and politics against a weird backdrop where people are swallowed by gullets and suffer from diseases that turn them into dragons. The middle sections, books 1 and 2, are Lanark's alter-ego named Duncan Thaw, a boy growing up in Glasgow in a working class family who is devoted to his art.
I'm a quick reader, but it's taken me a long time to read this book, mostly because I wanted to ponder what was written. It's a hard book to explain; it's mystical with a touch of the ordinary, often cruel with just a few moments of tenderness, and always thought-provoking in what is said about working men and women. The drudgery of Duncan Thaw's everyday life is offset by the weirdness that Lanark lives through.
Other reviewers have noted what an excellent portrait of the city of Glasgow this book reflects. It's is Gray's city in real life and in the guise of Duncan Thaw, but Unthank is also Glasgow as Grays sees it. In many ways, this is his tribute as much as Ulysses was Joyce's tribute to Dublin, the high points and the flaws.
This is a book I'll go back to again and again, I suspect. It's probably not for everyone, but there is much here to digest. ( )
  N.W.Moors | Aug 9, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
What's worth saying, these decades on, is that Lanark , in common with all great books, is still, and always will be, an act of resistance. It is part of the system of whispers and sedition and direct communion, one voice to another, we call literature. Its bravery in finding voice, in encouraging the enormous power of public, national, artistic, sexual and political imagination, is not something to take for granted.

Alasdair Gray's big book about Glasgow is also a big book about everywhere. Its insistence on the literal if mistrusted truth - that Glasgow and Scotland and every small nation and individual within it are part of the whole wide world - is something worth saying indeed. Dear reader, delay no longer. Engage with the text. Imagine. Admire the view.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Guardian, Janice Galloway
 
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The Elite Cafe was entered by a staircase from the foyer of a cinema.
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"Who did the council fight?"
"It split in two and fought itself."
"That's suicide!"
"No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation."
"It is plain that the vaster the social unit, the less possible is true democracy."
He wallows under, gasping and tumbling over and over in salt sting, knowing nothing but the need not to breathe. A humming drumming fills his brain, in panic he opens eyes and glimpses green glimmers through salt sting. And when at last, like fingernails losing clutch on too narrow a ledge, he, tumbling, yells out last dregs of breath and has to breathe, there flows in upon him, not pain, but annihilating sweetness.
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'Probably thegreatest novel of the century'Observer 'Remarkable . . . A work of loving and vivid imagination, yielding copious riches'WILLIAM BOYD 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. First published in 1981, Lanark immediately established Gray as one of Britain's leading writers.

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