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Lanark (1981)

by Alasdair Gray

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1,895367,484 (4)91
'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 (34)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Wow! Joyce meets Vonnegut in Glasgow. Wohda thought? Wow! ( )
  Estragon1958 | May 23, 2022 |
This book was a bit patchy and long for me. There were sections I really enjoyed and yet as a whole I wasn't quite convinced by it. It's weird and inventive with some very memorable scenes, but its what I would characterise as 'men's fiction' where the women tend to be a bit poorly drawn and unconvincing. I probably most enjoyed some of the deconstruction towards the end. Its quite disjointed between the realism of books 1 and 2, and the fantasy of books 3 and 4, which by the way are not in that order in the book. I feel like its very much a curate's egg, but it's a cult classic and I'm glad I've read it. ( )
1 vote AlisonSakai | Jul 25, 2021 |
Fascinating, confusing, weird. I can't even begin to offer a plot synopsis. I was fascinated by parts and bored to tears by other parts. Epic strangeness that nevertheless strikes amazingly close to home at times. A novel not soon forgotten. ( )
  Charon07 | Jul 16, 2021 |
Most of the commentary on this book concentrates on its famous division between the Bildungsroman/roman à clef sections of Books 1 and 2, and the adult/fantastical sections of Books 3 and 4. That's true, and there's a lot to say about the way that Gray structured the book to enhance the parallelisms between Thaw and Lanark's lives (and he even says as much in the Epilogue), but I think the main division in the book is between the quotidian stuff - meaning the lives and loves of the dual protagonists - and the broader thematic stuff about society and its evolution.

The Introduction, which like all introductions should really be read last, claims that this is the Glaswegian equivalent of Ulysses. This is neither a true compliment, as Glasgow does not come off like a very nice place in the book, nor really all that meaningful, since Lanark and Ulysses are fairly different works. Lanark has some metafictional elements in it that I didn't enjoy much, but at heart it's divided between a sort of young adult novel about the adolescence of the artistic, asthmatic, alienated youth Duncan Thaw, who's openly based on the author; and a dystopian political novel about Lanark, who is Thaw's spiritual doppelgänger. Both halves of the book, somewhat reordered for artistic effect, have a lot of obvious parallels with each other, and while different readers will have their own favorite parts, I thought the "lovable loser" sections of Thaw's story were the strongest, both since they seemed to be written with real feelings, and because few people who grow through adolescence won't sympathize with his growing pains. By contrast, a lot of the Lanark sections consist of him essentially blundering around in a bizarre future landscape that's clearly based on Glasgow, yet alien enough to be offputting without truly being something new.

The real interest for me was in seeing how Thaw/Lanark's emotional turmoil got reflected in the world around them. One of the more interesting "soft" sci-fi novels I've read in the past few years is Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, wherein the main character sees the similarity of life at many different scales - conflict between individuals is like conflict between tribes, is like conflict between races, is like conflict between species, and so on. In Lanark, the author, in a cringingly awkward ex cathedra cameo that's reminiscent of nothing so much as the Architect scene in the second Matrix movie, says as much to Lanark: "The Thaw narrative shows a man dying because he is bad at loving. It is enclosed by your narrative which shows civilization collapsing for the same reason." That's the kind of stuff I like reading about, what the relationship is between the omnipresence of human frailty and the corresponding flaws in our societies, what our growth and change says about us, and whether our actions are really leading us anywhere or merely sublimating our failures into ever less satisfying receptacles. The novel doesn't talk about that stuff as much as I'd have liked, but it's good to know Gray was thinking about it when he wrote it.

The emotional turmoil stuff is good too, although better in the Thaw parts, where he's just a kid and can be excused for his weirdness and clumsiness, than in Lanark's, who spends a lot of time in baffling non-conversations with the people around him. Gray is very good at making emotional pain present, be it towards parents, friends, or lovers. Some parts of Thaw's story are actually hard to read, so vividly do Thaw's struggles with girls, his art, his parents, and his maturity come across. However, Lanark strikes me as a book that would have been improved without the metafictional Epilogue where Gray explains exactly that. I'm just not sure it's possible to be truly artistically successful when being so self-referential, even if the little list of plagiarisms is actually really helpful for thinking about what the novel means. I prefer works to stand on their own; it's the job of critics - who are actually encouraged to talk about books and their reactions to them, and reactions to other reactions, etc. - who should be trusted with that stuff, because otherwise the author's breaking of the fourth wall just emphasizes how artificial their work is, and all suspension of disbelief is lost.

Other than that, it's an immense, fascinating novel about a man's journey through the world and his relationship to it that will please both lovers of sci-fi and young adult literature, who are seldom in agreement. ( )
1 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
't lag niet aan't penneke, maar aan't menneke.

Lanark is een boek dat je helemaal mee zuigt, waar je steeds dieper inkruipt en dat je langzaam inkapselt in zijn eigen waarheden, kleuren, krochten en geplogenheden.
Toen ik om werktechnische redenen het boek aan de kant moest leggen, vervaagde die wereld dag in dag uit steeds meer. Toen ik het enkele weken later eindelijk weer ter hand nam, was de afstand tussen mij en het boek te groot geworden. Misschien had het met wat geduld nog wel gelukt, maar ik geraakte niet zomaar meer binnen in die unieke wereld die Gray geschapen heeft. Alleen opnieuw beginnen leek me een optie, maar daar had ik dan weer niet het karakter voor. Jammer, maar zo gaat het soms met een boek.
4 sterren voor de leeservaring, de unieke pen en de indrukwekkende sfeer die Lanark opbouwt. 4 sterren tot op het moment waar we afscheid namen. ( )
  GertDeBie | Mar 22, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (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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