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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2010
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2012
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.
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on 2 September 2013
This is so well worth reading, and I feel a bit lost now I have finished it!

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.

I recommend!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2013
A flight of imagination which will make you laugh, weep, contemplate life & the universe...and wish you were as much of a genius as Alasdair Gray. A true modern classic!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2015
How this passed me by in the 80s I do not know, but I'm glad I got there eventually via my son. (Parents of young adults out there, isn't it wonderful when that happens?!) It is not like anything I've ever read, though there are echoes of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Mervyn Peake and Kafka, if that's not pushing it too far.
Just buy it and read it. It's awesome. (I use the word in its correct sense.)
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on 4 July 2012
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.
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on 24 July 2015
Lanark is one of my favourite books of all time. I’d consider it to be Gray’s magnum opus. I love the way the novel is split into four segments and the story of Thaw and Lanark isn’t told in chronological order. This works really well. I enjoyed the Thaw sections the best. They seem to be based at least in part of Gray’s life and are really enjoyable. I liked Lanark’s sections better in the second time around. These are very different than Thaw’s sections and can be hard to adjust to for a first time reader. Lanark draws inspiration from the work of William Blake and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. I love Blake’s work. A colour illustrated copy of his Songs of Innocence and Experience is a treasured possession. I also love The Divine Comedy. I have a battered copy that I’ve read. Lanark is brilliant, original novel – of a very rare and wonderful kind. I gave Grey’s debut novel 4 stars the first time I read it but enjoyed it better the second time.
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on 31 March 2015
Alternating between the heartache of the modernists and the parodic, 'post' indulgence of their forebears, Gray explores every facet of the strugglin' artist. The themes are well-trodden, but Lanark is nonetheless a wonderful journey in its own right, and will leave you staring bleary eyed into its last 'GOODBYE'.

A soul searching necessity. I'm surprised that more hasn't been written of it.
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on 16 June 2015
This book is not for the faint hearted, narrating its plot is not an easy task, and it moves from one style to another with incredible simplicity. It is so rich in references that you could read it again and again and always find something new. You follow the character(s) eager to constantly find out more. The writing it strong and at points really really really strong!
I loved it!
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