29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional, difficult, incredible book.
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...
Published on 19 Oct 2009 by A. Glen
3.0 out of 5 stars Required reading.......
I'd been meaning to read Lanark since way back in the early eighties. It was always an expensive set of books and,as such, I always held off. Then it appeared on Kindle and I just had to have it. I'm glad I've read it but it's a heavy tome. Not my usual genre but thought provoking just the same. An intelligent, masterful book which I'll admit, had me struggling in parts...
Published 7 days ago by Margaret Donnelly
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional, difficult, incredible book.,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (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.
However, if you are interested in writers who are openly technical, and choose to foreground the constructed nature of their work, or you're a fan of Iain Banks, David Mitchell, AL Kennedy or other popular writers influenced by Alasdair Gray, this book will probably appeal hugely to you. In terms of predecessors and debts owed, Lanark is a novel self- consciously in the tradition of James Joyce, Cervantes and Lawrence Stern, taking in Huxley and Swift to boot. Lanark is genuinely a powerful, funny, important book. It thoroughly deserves its lofty academic reputation.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I've Not Had Enough",
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (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. We have the 'literal' life of Thaw (quite clearly semi-autobiographical with regard to its author, and quite apart from its merit as Art, very informative about Gray's development as an artist), and we have the 'imaginary' life of Lanark, who is still steadfastly Thaw, but in some other surrealistic parallel dimension.
Gray's organisation of his material in "Lanark" is sublime/apt/meticulous, such that we are never in doubt about 'where we are' in the story, and we are not left metaphorically wandering about and lost.
Lanark is of course wandering about and lost, much like the rest of us. Lanark is just an ordinary person, a central theme of the novel. And as for the novel's main theme, that is surely Love.
Love found, love lost, unrequited love .... this theme is best summed up by a quote: "I ought to have more love before I die. I've not had enough."
I first read this novel in October 1982, and my Granada paperback edition has literally fallen to pieces.
Luckily, I also possess a signed and limited-edition of "Lanark" in solemn hardback. A true and forever treasure, until I sadly have to die, like everyone else.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Loved it.,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)I bought this book after trawling the internet for a copy of Gray's 'Unlikely Stories, Mostly' collection and coming up fruitless. I'm glad I got this instead. I don't like to get into the plot or try to summarise a book too much in recommending it to others, and try to avoid cliches like 'social commentary', 'vivid imagery' and 'imaginitive', but Lanark is all of these and alot more (another cliche, sorry). I'm sure some people wouldn't like the odd separation of the four books that make up the titular 'life', but it's worth getting past this. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
3.0 out of 5 stars Required reading.......,
1.0 out of 5 stars In mining terms, there may be richer seams for most readers in the modern literary world,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)This is a very very very long book. Well four books in fact. DO NOT EMBARK on it/them unless you want to give up a sizeable chunk of your non-sleeping/eating/working/emailing life.
Hidden in it is a good readable narrative of a young struggling Glaswegian artist (`Book One' but the author wants you to read it second), but this is overlaid with a sub-1984 plot of a surreal futuristic world where everyone in power is a self-serving `baddy' - you feel the author's hatred of the world and power coming through in every sentence.
I found our main character unbelievably difficult to like. Despite his violent outbursts, he is unrelentingly helped by his loving Dad bringing him up alone, schoolteachers who adopt him, art school teachers who nurture him and let him break rules to nurture his talent, and people in `the machine' that help him, but again and again he spurns their help like a frustrated adolescent.
The universe (`Unthank') created is not thought-provoking Orwell. It is simply an adolescent rant about how the world is full of bad people. (Coincidentally, both Orwell and Gray allude to wandering corridors of the BBC as inspirations for their created universes). As `science fiction', I am afraid Alasdair Gray will `unthank' me for saying this, but you feel him writing and inventing new rules about time and space rather than finding yourself suspending your disbelief.
Over four books an author is bound to get some arrows on target and there certainly are some here. The' underground world' (part of a weird hierarchical labyrinth of linked worlds) where the lead character ends up at one point has great food in a choice of colours - in a wonderful twist it turns out the coloured food is made from recycled dead humans. However, one kindly vicar character is able to get fresh food from the outside world (despite its intercalendrical zones) by some magical means that raises more questions than it solves.
Unlike the sci fi world, the lead character's unsuccessful fumblings with women as a maturing young man are entirely credible and a truly great read. Alasdair Gray has perfectly captured a young man's obsession with sexual activity in relationships, those secretive obsessive crushes and confused frustration as the women who do get close seem to blow hot and cold in an explicable way.
It may not have been Alasdair Gray's intention, but as a study of going mad, it succeeds wonderfully.
Lanark also works as a `Glasgow book' capturing a certain soul of the city, perhaps not in the way Trainspotters captured Edinburgh, or Joyce captures early twentieth century Dublin in Ulysses, but nevertheless, this is `Glasgow' book. `Mibby' (as his characters say) this why the Guardian described it as "one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction" - we desperately want a landmark piece of fiction from twentieth century Glasgow). It was not a Grauniad Lanark/landmark misprint. It is a twentieth century Glaswegian Boswell we want - indeed Boswell was a frequent guest of a Lord Monboddo at Monboddo house, where he made significant observations on eighteenth century Scotland that have survived to our present day. The ruler of Gray's labyrinthine Lanark worlds is also called (the phonetically wonderful) `Lord Monboddo.'
It is not a plodding book, it is a creative magnum opus written from the heart of an intelligent writer. If you're the kind of reader who likes that sort of thing, there's a great discussion between the author and the lead character just before the end of the fourth book.
Some nice writing, a lot of creativity, food for a very interesting and enjoyable discussion, but an awful lot of time needs to be given up to read it - in mining terms, there may be richer seams for most readers in the literary world.
4.0 out of 5 stars A memorable and enjoyable read,
I really feel like I have lived in other worlds after reading Lanark, I am sure I will read it again as well it is so quality.
It is a combination of a real-life type story about a boy/young man growing up - which is a real page turner, utterly gripping and convincing - and a fantasy of what the future might be like. The two are sort of connected but not so you'd really notice.
Like some other readers, I liked the boy/young man growing up part the best. It is brilliantly written in a very skilled and concise way, it sticks in your mind and is completely believable (apparently it is basically drawn from the author's life). However, I also enjoyed the fantasy parts even though I do not normally read that type of book - it was a foray into the unknown which appealed to my imagination in many ways.
There are a few bits that I felt a bit frustrated with (in the fantasy parts) because I could not quite see the point of them, but I kept going through these even if I did skim read a tiny bit....
I had the kindle edition which means you do not get the benefit of the amazing pictures drawn by the author. Also you might think it has got something wrong with it because it starts with 'Book 3' but it is supposed to be like that.
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird or WHAT?,
5.0 out of 5 stars It was the best of times ....,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (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?
Confused (there should be a question mark next, but I don't want this to be confused as being a part of the previous questions, so I'll consider 'Confused' (the first) to be a statement of fact rather than an interrogatory).
It is worth the price of the book to read the Epilogue (which isn't one). By the by, Part 1 is not first, either; though, given everything else going on, no one should expect it to be. And, part of the time is spent in hell. All for one inclusive price and set of pages - that include Gray's art work.
To put it succinctly, if you need a book to start at A and go to Z and say The End - run from this one. If you need a book to actually make sense in such a way that you know what's going on or has gone on - join the race to the door. If you need likable characters or characters that make sense - recite the Who's on First? routine as you put this book down (un-bought).
If anyone is left, this is not an easy book to read or like - but it is a lot of fun. That's why I spend so much time reading. I've ordered three more by Gray. Consider that statement as a recommendation for this one.
5.0 out of 5 stars Scottish Classic,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)Gray's characters are overwhelmingly well put together and his style of prose is enchanting and amusing simultaneously. All the people we `meet' throughout the novel be they completely surreal or genuinely believable and the style of writing means it is all wholly accessible, the only place I get a little lost is in the plot and in the science fiction-y `books'. This however does not detract from the enjoyment.
It feels very Scottish, which is by no means a bad thing and it also feels very seventies/eighties - it `fits' in my mind with lots of other authors most notably Anthony Burgess whose works first sprung to mind when I started reading this although I also got hints of Orwell and Huxley. Gray cites the wonderful Franz Kafka as his main influence and there is certainly a Kafkaesque element to this novel at least in the continued imprisonment that seems to keep cropping up.
It made me fall in love with Glasgow all over again also which is a definite positive.
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a glass of water in the middle of the desert,
This review is from: Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) (Paperback)The title I gave to the review makes sense in the perspective of people who haven't got the luck to read a book which appeals to your visual imagination and is quite thoughtful in its dicussions. It's actually something you see/read only very rarely but always yearn for.
This book is divided in four parts, numbered in a weird way but with a consistent chronology of events. The story occupies itself with two narratives, the middle parts (being books one and two) deals with the shortish life of Duncan Thaw, a person with virtually zero social skills and at some point of his life "dies". The first and last parts (being books three and four) deals with the "afterlife" of Thaw that now has the name of Lanark and is irrevocably drawn to the city of Unthank. Let the devil come and choose the worst life.
I'm sure to book is full of hidden meanings that make the experience of reading it much richer, but anyhow, if you see all those details or not, the book is complexly beautiful and everyone should read at least one time in their lives.
Till next time,
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Lanark: A Life in Four Books (Canongate Classics) by Alasdair Gray (Paperback - 31 May 2007)
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