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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 26 June 2017
Locked in the '80s
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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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on 13 January 2016
you often pick it up in book shops, you hear folk saying what a difficult book it is, you put it back down. you know you'll repeat the exercise frequently, and you'll wish you had the will and intellect to read, understand and enjoy this book, which people have made you frightened of. then, after years of this behaviour, you will buy it twice in two days.
which i did, the first copy as a christmas present for my son, the 2nd, the day after, for £2 in a charity shop, when i decided that i couldn't wait for him to get through it so i could scadge a loan of it. well, i wasn't going to let him read it first! unthank goodness i did! this is truly one of the great scottish novels, years in the writing, greatly considered, utterly compelling, and has the quality attached to it that makes you read slower toward the end, because you don't want it to. a mesmerising, towering achievement of a book. unthanks mr. gray!
the tale is a simple one and a complex one, and an emotional one as it details the life of lanark/duncan thaw through his failures (many) and triumphs (few, but inspiring). these take place in two distinctive settings and times, creating some of the most skillfully written science fiction in the process. the 'glasgow' books are written with great care and obvious love, with a nod to james kelman in their creation. i can't think of greater praise. i'm not going to wrestle with the guts of the story, the why's, the how's, the where's, etc., as it's covered more than ably by other reviewers, and in the actual book, of course. it's important, however, to say that you don't have to be scottish to read and enjoy it, just read and enjoy it!
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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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on 18 August 2015
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on 6 December 2013
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. Ticked off my list but can't say it was my most enjoyable read.
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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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on 20 April 2017
I am astounded at the reviews on this book, moreso as some of those lavishing praise are well known authors.I found the content and writing turgid. Perhaps if I was still in my youth I would have persevered with it but in the Autumn of my life I find myself unwilling to waste precious time on a lost cause.
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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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