Review of 'Lanark'

Lanark by Alasdair Gray

Gray's semi-autobiographical Lanark (“A Life in Four Books”) has been hailed by many as a modern classic of British literature. It is essentially two stories intertwined into one – The story of Lanark who is trapped in the surreal Unthank where life is unexpectedly harsh and bizare to say the least. This is also the tale of Duncan Thaw who is continually beset with personal problems despite his being allowed to pursue whatever profession he wants for his life (this is the most autobiographical section, in Gray's words). Towards the end of the book, told in a somewhat unusual order (explained away by the expediant of an “oracle” telling Lanark the tale of his younger self, Thaw), Lanark is elevated to provost of Unthank and sent to Provan to argue for the preservation of Unthank – a place he does not even care for. The story is complex and quite disheartening with nothing ever seeming to go right for either Lanark or Thaw. I would agree with the noted comparisons between Lanark and Dante's Inferno though that does not make it any more enlightening in it's somewhat complex contents. The ultimate conclusion is one of despair and an argument against the modern world we find ourselves in, with numerous parodying of various current-day issues (the attacks against massive corporate entities are obvious throughout). I found the book an interesting read though at the end I cannot decide what I have read: A story, a commentary, a vision of the future…? I think it is all these things though I don't know if I can place any particular conclusion on the contents other than to say it is an interesting version and vision of the problems of the modern world.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2004-10-09

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Canongate Classics

Publication Date: 1981