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Lanark by Alasdair Gray

Lanark (1981)

by Alasdair Gray

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1,586286,916 (4)78

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English (27)  French (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
(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). ( )
  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 |
Lanark/Duncan Thaw moves between worlds or dimensions. Time is nebulous, reality doesn't exist, or changes often. A fascinating, complicated, thick novel. Hard to describe, harder to read and digest. It has some things to say - timely especially now - about government abdicating its responsibility to the people and bowing to corporate greed. ( )
  Hagelstein | May 27, 2018 |
I'd had this book on my to-read list for ages. Jessa put it on the 100 Best Books of the 20th century list for Bookslut, and had raved to me about Gray enough that I'd read and loved Poor Things and 1982, Janine (the latter is perpetually on my list of 10 favorite books). I'd had an eye out for Lanark for at least a decade, but not stumbled upon it anywhere. Finally, it occurred to me that I could make an interlibrary loan request. (Seriously a dangerous thing.)

I really do not want to give this book back. It's clear from the condition of the book that it had never been read. And now it's got some foxing and bumping to corners and actually looks loved and they can't have it back. I am tempted to ask them about the replacement price, but I also do want to send it back in the hopes that someone else will eventually pick it up and read it.

You may be able to tell, but I'm having a hard time approaching discussing the actual contents of this book. Lanark is the story of Lanark and of Thaw, who may or may not be the same person. Lanark's story is dystopian science fiction in parts, wildly speculative fantasy in others, sometimes reminding me of Brazil, or LOST, with occasional bouts of biting political satire. Thaw's story is more grinding realism, the story of a young artist with mysterious health problems, limited income, and trouble with authority. It sometimes reminded me of 1982, Janine. The stories are linked twice, once, by an oracle, who tells Lanark (who does not remember his life before waking on a train to Unthank), that before Unthank he was Thaw. The second time, Lanark meets The Author a few chapters before the end, who intimates that he started writing a story about Thaw, but found him too unlikeable, and so started over with Lanark.

This section on the conversation between Lanark and The Author was my favorite of the book -- I was grinning madly in the airport as I read it. It is, of course, a meta meditation on the roles of characters, authors, and readers, and what is the point of it all? And why are so few characters in literary novels ever happy? Amongst other things.

I can imagine this would be a love it or hate it kind of book. Despite Thaw's Serious Women Problems (and, to a lesser extent, Lanark's), something that often turns me off of a book, I loved it. Adored it. Will have to reread it again, sometime in the future.

Fabulous. ( )
2 vote greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (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.
"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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330319655, Paperback)

Duncan Thaw, the narrator, has to cope with a loveless family and the drudgery of growing to maturity in Glasgow. Elsewhere the author moves Thaw into fantasy when he sends him to Unthank, a city he is condemned to after his death. From the author of "Something Leather".

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This novel is 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.

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