Most helpful positive review
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
An exceptional, difficult, incredible book.
on 19 October 2009
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.