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Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) Paperback – 31 May 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (31 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841959073
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841959078
  • Product Dimensions: 33 x 2.5 x 50.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A quite extraordinary achievement, the most remarkable thing in Scottish fiction for a very long time. It has changed the landscape." (Allan Massie The Scotsman)

"Undoubtedly the best work of fiction written by a Scottish author for decades." (Time Out)

"Remarkable. . . Lanark is a work of loving and vivid imagination, yielding copious riches." (William Boyd Times Literary Supplement)

"I was absolutely knocked out by Lanark. I think it's the best in Scottish literature this century." (Iain Banks)

Book Description

With a new introduction by William Boyd

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A. Glen on 19 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
To review this book properly, I have to make two things totally clear first of all. One, this is probably my favourite book of all time; I've read it four times, studied it extensively at school and university, and written two dissertations on it. Secondly, it's a difficult book. it's opaque, occasionally frustrating, diverse to the point of fragmentation, and bloody massive.

The difficult elements of Lanark are tied in inextricable with the manner of conception. Gray began writing the novel in 1954, and finished it in 1976. Over the course of these twenty two years, the book went through a tremendous amount of redrafting, editing, scrapping and resurrecting. The negative side to this extraordinarily long genesis is that the book does at times seem overly divergent in prose style, and can even feel disjointed. The plus side is, of course, that the final result is an allegorical novel covering over twenty years of ideas, events, arguments and revelations from Gray's life, Scotland and the world in general.

The plot of the novel is half fantastical, half semi-autobiographical. The novel is split into four books, with 1& 2 mapping the life of Duncan Thaw, a Glasgow man based on Gray himself; Book 3&4 focus on Lanark, an amnesiac lost in the bizarre city of Unthank.

Gray makes use of many experimental techniques in the novel, including his own illustrations and creative typesetting, extensive use of pastiche, self-referential jokes, fake scholarly footnotes, references to imaginary chapters and various other devices. Take note; if extensive experimentation with text, language and the elements of construction of fiction do not appeal to you, you will probably find large sections of this book not to your taste, if not unreadable.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Morton on 2 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
Having been an 'avid' reader since I first picked up a "William" book over fifty years ago, I must have read countless hundreds of novels over that time, 'Classic' or otherwise. "Lanark" sits easily in my top ten favourite novels ever. It is now rightly regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of all time, and contributes mightily to English Literature in general. Each and every time that I have recommended this novel to a 'reading' friend, they have thereafter warmly cherished this book and continue to hold it in the highest affection. But, so much for my meagre recommendations.
To properly 'review' "Lanark" would take me the rest of the day, and at least twenty-five pages of exegesis.
Just in passing then, I have heard this opus described as 'dense', 'opaque and 'difficult'- it isn't! You only have to read the opening paragraph to see that the prose is straightforward, if not downright dead-pan. Sentence structure is generally simple, and even honed-down, as the author seeks to convey his meaning as directly as possible. Having said that, "Lanark" is a vivid and luminous work, and is at times gut-wrenching and immensely sad. Indeed, Sadness seems to be at the absolute core of this book, and to inhabit every page.
We also note in passing the title of this novel: "Lanark - A Life in 4 Books". The novel deals with the Life of One Single Person only (with, of course, the concomintant cast of characters). Lanark and Thaw are the same person in other words, as so much seems obvious.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson on 16 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
Wait! No it wasn't. It was the worst of times (again!), I think. Or, the times were at least as bad as the last time. But, what's happened to time? And, what's happened to place? Most of all, what's happened to me?

We are being taken somewhere that is not like where we were, but we can't remember where we were - or when. There's that time thing again; maybe, we think, we don't need time; but we do, so we have to find a way to find some.

This book is about something, somewhen, leading somewhere with some point that Gray wanted to make. I really hope he made it. It isn't important whether I recognized it as it went by. I was trying to figure out how I could avoid being what, when and where this was.

The main character is named Lanark and/or Thaw. He, or one of him, is dead. Or, the one who was that is now dead is also the one who is now alive or this second one is the dead first one somewhere else. Whatever he is, he isn't very likable. This puts him in good company with every other unlikable person. We are told about him(s) and the others by the author or the author's author.

Is a metafiction created by the author as author the same as a metafiction created by the author about another author? Is it still a metafiction or is it only the author sticking himself into the one fiction? Does the answer to either of those questions make a bit of difference? And, was there any reason for the last question, before this, or was it presumed to be asked before it, or this second question before this question mark and after the previous?
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