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Alasdair Gray (1934–2019)

Author of Lanark

41+ Works 5,751 Members 75 Reviews 46 Favorited

About the Author

Alasdair James Gray was born on Dec. 28, 1934, in Glasgow to Amy (Fleming) and Alexander Gray. His mother worked in a clothing warehouse, his father in construction. Mr. Gray studied design and mural painting at the Glasgow College of Art. When he graduated in 1957, he was commissioned to paint show more murals around Glasgow, which he continued to create until 2014. He worked on freelance projects and also wrote plays before publishing his first novel. Whether he was creating etchings for his books or a mural to adorn the ceiling of the Glasgow arts and entertainment venue Oran Mor, Mr. Gray created an unusual niche for himself encompassing Scotland's literary and artistic spheres. While his murals can be found at subway stops and restaurants in Glasgow, some of his works are in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. In addition to writing fiction, poems and plays for the stage, television and radio Mr. Gray published an autobiography, A Life in Pictures, in 2010. It combined photos, written descriptions and lavish illustrations to reveal that much of Mr. Gray's personal life was embedded in his work. Alasdair James Gray passed away on December 29, 2019 at the age of 85. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

Works by Alasdair Gray

Lanark (1981) 1,983 copies
Poor Things (1992) 839 copies
1982, Janine (1984) 436 copies
Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983) 325 copies
The Book of Prefaces (2000) 262 copies
A History Maker (1994) 257 copies
Ten Tales Tall and True (1993) 220 copies
Something Leather (1990) 200 copies
The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985) 166 copies
Old Men in Love (2007) 141 copies
A Life in Pictures (2010) 82 copies
Lean Tales (1985) — Contributor — 75 copies

Associated Works

Best European Fiction 2010 (2009) — Contributor — 164 copies
The Big Book of Modern Fantasy (2020) — Contributor — 103 copies
The Oxford Book of Scottish Short Stories (1995) — Contributor — 100 copies
Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future (2013) — Contributor — 34 copies
An Anthology of Scottish Fantasy Literature (1996) — Contributor — 14 copies
Starfield (1989) — Contributor — 11 copies
Streets of Stone (1985) — Contributor — 6 copies
Wynd: 130 (2010) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Gray, Alasdair
Legal name
Gray, Alasdair James
Date of death
Riddrie, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, UK
Place of death
Glasgow, Scotland, UK (Queen Elizabeth University Hospital)
Places of residence
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Glasgow College of Art (Dipl.|1957)
Awards and honors
Scottish Book of the Year Award (1982, 2011)
Saltire Society Scottish Lifetime Achievement Award (2019)
Whitbread Novel Award (1992)
Guardian Fiction Prize (1992)
Short biography
Alasdair James Gray was a Scottish writer and artist. His first novel, Lanark, is seen as a landmark of Scottish fiction. He published novels, short stories, plays, poetry and translations, and wrote on politics and the history of English and Scots literature.



"My imagination had awakened. The imagination is, like the appendix, inherited from a primitive epoch when it aided the survival of our species, but in modern scientific industrial nations it is mainly a source of disease. I had prided myself on lacking one, but it had only lain dormant."

Due to ereader/ebook weirdness I didn't read the introduction until I'd finished the book so I was surprised by the ending letter. I actually think that's a decent way to read the book - it makes bits of the first 90% more irritating, but the impact when you reach the end is a lot stronger when you don't know it's coming. So I guess I'm not about to say anything that's a spoiler if you read the introduction (which is by the author and part of the story, to be clear) but if you want to try it a different way look away now, heh.

The book works by showing the life of a woman through multiple perspectives, with none giving a full and clear picture, and only at the end does she get to speak for herself as herself - and still, although she corrects some things, she glosses over most of the narrative and admits there are facts in there even if it's a fanciful story. Because the vast majority is told by and through McCandless, even the perspectives of the other characters are untrustworthy as we only see them through his eyes. There's a long letter from Bella in the middle, but again it's not entirely clear how much is edited by McCandless - and how much of Victoria disagreeing at the end is a retrospective embarrassment and editing of her past? And it's clear Bella/Victoria is not being entirely honest about a few things even at the end (the true story of what happened with Duncan Wedderburn can only be guessed at). And on top of that we have the judgmental introduction of Alisdair Gray (as character) where he insists McCandless's narrative is basically accurate, even if it has dramatic flair, and constantly reinserts himself through footnotes to justify it through historical fact (and fictional historical fact). The epistolary style and the shifts in reporting combine to give a lot of depth if you think about it and try and piece together a "real" story (you can't obviously, but it's interesting where your own ideas lead you)

My impression was of a story about multiple men - except Godwin - struggling to deal with one woman trying to make her own story and imposing their own stories on her that said more about them than her actions. Someone like McCandless was not as awful as the rest but could still only see her independence and beliefs as something borne from an essentially supernatural event - Frankenstein and Pygmalion combined - rather than something a normal woman in society could develop. He couldn't accept Godwin's goodness because it would make him feel too judged so he created a story about his "friend" to make him seem the pitiable one.
… (more)
tombomp | 14 other reviews | Oct 31, 2023 |
Big and baffling. Feels like it needs a re-read to comprehend, but it is big. There are Big Themes of socialism and capitalism and Freud and subconscious, but it's hard to know how seriously any of it is being taken. The parts (Books) that are fantastical are sort of compelling and sort of tiresome—lots of visual imagery and description that I find hard to keep in mind. The time-mangling stuff is well done, though. Plot is picaresque in these parts. The parts (Books) that are realist-ish are kind of straightforward and very much a reminder that the 1950s are now an awful long time ago. The protagonist is both fully realised and a cypher. The sexual politics and general attitude to women are both pretty dated. The whole is somehow less playful than I expected from Gray, though there is the odd good joke. It's certainly an achievement but I don't know what it achieves.… (more)
hypostasise | 36 other reviews | Sep 13, 2023 |
Fantastic and brilliantly written
justgeekingby | 14 other reviews | Jun 6, 2023 |
A Frankenstein-inspired story of Bella Baxter, Archibald McCandless and Godwin Baxter that, in its complexity, is a thrill to read. The feminist, scientist, medicinal, science fictional readings of this book seem to give different conclusions that all tie in together in the theme of the body, and what it means to truly be human, sexually, biologically, mentally and physically. Wonderfully written and put together.
SerendipitousReader4 | 14 other reviews | May 12, 2023 |



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