Book: Alasdair Gray, Lanark

Dazzling, haunting and erudite, Gray’s four-volume monolith is a tour de force inside the mind of the most hilariously pathetic character in literature since Ignatius J. Reilly

-Kathryn Bromwich

About fifty pages into Lanark, the homonymous protagonist walks into a mouth at the side of a road, sliding down feet-first into a mysterious sanatorium where the doctors and nurses set about curing his dragonhide. This sets the tone for the rest of the story – or at least half of it. The monumental work is comprised of four books, starting with Book Three. The Epilogue, which appears a few chapters before the end of the book, provides a meta-deconstruction of the book itself, including references to all the authors Gray has plagiarised, such as Franz Kafka and Flann O’Brien.

Half of the book is set in a dystopian fantasy world where there is no sunlight, and where the inhabitants have to contend with a corrupt and impenetrable bureaucracy. Lanark is a mysterious outsider, a man of few words who is quickly befriended by the charismatic local debauchee Sludden and his group of fawning hangers-on. The other half of the book, more prosaic but just as riveting,  is set in mid-Century Glasgow, following the adventures of Duncan Thaw, art student and all-round catastrophe of a human being – ostensibly based on Gray himself.

It took Gray thirty years to write (and illustrate) this book, and this is apparent throughout. Linguistically, politically, poetically, it is magnificent and poignant, while always remaining eminently readable and full of humour. However, the funniest and most scathing aspect of the book is Duncan Thaw: a hilariously pretentious and revolting amalgam of Stephen Daedalus and Ignatius J. Reilly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s