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4.10  ·  Rating details ·  4,824 ratings  ·  393 reviews
This work, originally published in 1981, has been hailed as the most influential Scottish novel of the second half of the 20th century. Its playful narrative techniques convey a profound message, personal and political, about humankind's inability to love and yet our compulsion to go on trying.
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published November 9th 2002 by Canongate Books (first published 1981)
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Barbara I would say yes, quite difficult to read. Some parts flew along while others....
It's very well written so can't fault it that way and it's a…more
I would say yes, quite difficult to read. Some parts flew along while others....
It's very well written so can't fault it that way and it's a while now since I read it but I think by the time I got to the end I was glad I had taken the trouble, but it wasn't the easiest read. (less)

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Average rating 4.10  · 
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Manuel Antão
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1981
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Inflated Footnotes: "Lanark - A Life in Four Books" by Alasdair Gray

(Original Review, 1981-03-10)

I don't have problem with intertextual interpretation as such. It's only that I've always seen reading as a collaborative process between an author and a reader. If you look at it that way, it makes you wonder which parts of deep reading “Lanark” comes from the mind of Alas
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british
Alien Life-forms

Lanark, on the face of it, is a complex fantasy of a sort of Glaswegian student-Bohemia experienced by the eponymous hero (alias Thaw). There are intriguing allusions and dense metaphysical comments on almost every page. I don’t think it is prudent, or even possible, to summarize its narrative or its meaning. But a key to both might be found in what I think is its philosophical, and therefore essentially literary, context.

According to some, the most serious impediment to explai/>,
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Some novels are like the Cheshire Cat, the only thing left of them is their smile. Can't remember much about this big, crazy book but I do remember it was big, and crazy, and about Glasgow, and not-Glasgow, which was called Unthank. I thought it was brilliant, but I can't tell you why now. Everything has faded except that sometimes i look up and there's its smile in the air.
Kevin Kelsey
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, _library
Posted at

“I wish I could make you like death a little more. It’s a great preserver. Without it the loveliest things change slowly into farce, as you will discover if you insist on having much more life.”

Lanark is one of those huge, pain-in-the-ass, crufty novels that I just wasn’t going to be able to avoid much longer. I find that I particularly enjoy Scottish literature, for whatever reason, and I plan on reading Iain Banks’ The Bridge fairly soon, which was largely influenced by Lanark. It
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: scotland, fiction, glasgow
I wanted very much to love this book, which was probably my first mistake. I had heard a lot of extremely complimentary things about how it was the most unusual, eccentric and meaningful novel various people had read for ages, and I probably came to it with rather exaggerated hopes. Anyway, it's good, but it's also flawed, as to be fair the author himself admits in a rather interesting confessional Epilogue.

The first thing you notice when you open it up and check out the Contents page is that i
Nov 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: hopeless dragons
Recommended to Mariel by: it is people!
I read Alasdair's part hopelessly biographical, part darkest fantasy Lanark in the spring of 2007. I could not read it again. In those days I'd identified the character(s) Lanark/Thaw to the person I was in love with (especially the artist parts). (I bet I'm the only person who is gonna say that about THIS book.) Those feelings changed (boy did they ever) and I'd not be able to bear being reminded of those feelings (as they probably should have always been) in their new light. I feel kinda crazy ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 20-ce, scotland
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lanark is an autobiography, a surreal depiction of hell, a literary and metafictional reflection, and a discourse on political systems. These elements amalgamate into a troubled and opaque whole, lacking any real pretence of cohesion; an entirely unique work, about as complex, original and ambitious as a novel can be.

Lanark really is a novel that defies adequate summary or categorisation, and I feel that any rating would be perfectly justifiable. Despite its flaws, I’m giving it five stars, for its commitm
I do not know what I just read. In the best possible way.

What can I say that doesn't spoil something?

-It's illustrated by the author. And rather well, I might add.
-Gray plays with structure. And linearity. And your fucking head.
-Just when you think you know what's going on, you don't.

Tonight I went to the library to see some local new author guy talk about his book which is completely irrelevant to this review. But what is relevant is that the guy si
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Around 200 pages mark: Sooooooooooooooooooooooooo long - and unbearably boring. I only have about 200 pages left so I'll soldier through and finish it although I'm unimpressed and will probably not pick up another Gray for some time.

Later: Rarely do I give up on a book if I've already already managed to read its first 490 pages and have only around 60 pages left because after trudging through so many pages it feels pointless not to make a final effort and spend half an hour actually
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
This is an Up Yours Novel.

Maybe I invented this semanteme. But that was how it felt as I finished reading it--Alasdair Gray grinning, giving me the finger.

I was amused, angry too, but smiling. It was not a joke, Gray spent years and years writing this. I suspect that at first he didn't know where he was going. He just wrote, grew old, wrote some more, and grew older. Finally he realized he must stop somewhere. He already had almost four books, all unpublished. So how to end? He clen
Jun 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books of all time. One of my most prized possessions is a beautiful collector's edition of this book I received as a gift. Although it is an amalgamation of many things--weird sci-fi dystopia/apocalypse, coming-of-age artist portrait, and political and class satire among them--it is one of the most wholly original works I have read, and it is deeply affecting. I adore this book.
Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
Wow what a book. Another year of #readingscotland and #scottishbooks and I was weary of this title because it splits opinion and has been deemed unreadable by some. I loved this. This is not a book for everyone. Part autobiographical, part dystopian, post-modern and surreal, it is without a shadow of a doubt a book that will displease more people than it pleases. But this reader here is jolly glad she read it. Loved this. (Also best Description of being asthmatic in fiction, was I surprised to h ...more
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, scottish
Crazy, frustrating, intensely boring in parts and brilliant in others, Lanark is Gray's stab at the Divine Comedy. Divided into four non-consecutive books, two of which take place in the Glaswegian hell of Unthank, the other two in Glasgow, we follow the life of Duncan Thaw (or Lanark, as he is called in Unthank) through his youth, death, and afterlife. I loved the dragons in book 3--an eczema-like disease leads to people becoming full-blown dragons. This felt like a perfect image for the emotio ...more
Started out interesting, and I was looking forward to finding out more of the strange world and how people ended up and got out of there, but the main character seriously annoyed and even more so when I got to his "real" life. A more narcissistic, misogynistic and antisocial character I've seldom met, and I found it hard to keep reading about him. It got a bit more interesting in the last part, but the world-building never really worked for me. Interesting but flawed.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alasdair Gray notes in the Epilogue section, strangely on p. 493 of his 560 page novel: " A possible explanation is that the author thinks a heavy book will make a bigger splash than two light ones. This note, well the entire section, appears to reconcile the disparate narratives which occupy the novel. Seldom have I ever encountered such polarizing sections; the Thaw scenes I absolutely loved and the Lanark/Unthank episodes were perfectly dreadful. The latter was likely intentional, portraits o ...more
Vit Babenco
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"But now the fantasies were imbecile frivolity, and poetry was whistling in the dark, and novels showed life fighting its own agony, and biographies were accounts of struggles toward violent or senile ends, and history was an infinitely diseased worm without head or tail, beginning or end." When a mind loses its way in reality it tries to hide in madness.
Mar 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Maybe one of the best autobiographical novels out there, and certainly the best one I've read. Near perfect for the most part, with just the right few fatal flaws. Lanark follows the life of Thaw/Lanark, through his short, nasty life in Scotland and his afterlife in Unthank. But it's arranged so that you get the first half of the afterlife, then the whole life itself, then the second half of the afterlife. It's a sensible way to lay it out, but it has the side effect of seeming like it's arrange ...more
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars.

Hype is a funny thing isn't it? Sometimes it can put something on your radar that you wouldn't normally have paid any attention to, and you come out of that situation the better person. And then there are the times where this doesn't happen. Those are the painful times, and it really does pain me to have to write this review.

Let me just clarify, I go by the Goodreads star rating system. 2 stars means 'it was okay'. I have given this 2.5 because I feel that the book deser
I'm feeling hugely ambivalent about this book.

On the one hand, the first book (which is also the third book) is tremendous. As I was reading it, I was thinking, ah, this book is going to be one of those five star books, maybe even a favorite. This is splendid: inventive, engaging.

Then we hit backstory. About this I felt meh. It's a narrative of a life, with maybe more mental illness in it than most, but okay, competently done, worth reading. Nothing, however, like the first (third) part, which
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Lanark is a fever dream so rich and strange and complex and many-faced it can't be done justice by a review (certainly not one by me). If you like stories that make you feel like you've been drugged and seem like five novels fighting inside one skin, this is for you.
Jeremy Garber
A fascinating, experimental yet eminently readable, funny and serious, neo-Romantic novel about a guy at odds with the world(s) around him. Lanark is a self-aware novel in which the main character switches back and forth between an allegorical post-apocalyptic world and the grim landscape of industrial Scotland. The protagonist, a somewhat slothful wannabe artist, tries desperately to create epic works of art and to find True Romance, but lacks the willpower or compassion to do either. When he f ...more
Aug 07, 2014 marked it as to-read
Post-modern but not post-modern, says El. Impossible to review, she says. Anything she says will ruin it, she says. 'Kay.
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book took me by surprise in every way. It was recommended to me by a patriotic Scotsman, so I was a bit skeptical, thinking that maybe his pride might be altering his judgment on the actual quality of the book. Also, science fiction and fantasy are not two of my favorite genres.

Despite all of this, the book blew me away. It's set in a wonderfully dystopic version of Glasgow, Scotland. The protagonist I suppose reflects the author's own upbringing and - to a limited extent - some of his exp
Leo Robertson
This went from:
Book 3- definite favourite book ever!
Book 1-... I'll skip this
Book 2-... I'll skip this
Book 4-... .... .... ....


I think it is cruel to create an immersive and surprising world that draws the reader in, then spend 3 other books talking about your own life and revealing every bloody reference that you used to create the first book, and how clever and well read you are ahhhhblahhhhhhhh... Ah, but this is a book about his life! I must have miss
Dec 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
This really is a masterpiece. Flawed, especially in the last book which occasionally tried my patience, but even then it is so brilliantly written and conceived that I had to read on. Special thanks to Montambo and Paul, otherwise I would have never heard of this, a true modern piece of literature that I believe captures the late 20th century. Even its flaws of self-consciousness matches the main character's true weakness of spiritual yearning and emptiness.
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: cynics, angry young men and women, anyone who enjoys a compelling epic
Shelves: 2007
Lanark is a story (or two) told in the wrong (but really quite right) order, a dystopian take on all the things that so readily lend themselves to the dystopian treatment: capitalism, power, love, etc. There are funny bits, fantastical bits, postmodern bits, and depressing bits, and Alasdair Gray is beyond smooth at weaving them all together.

Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pilgrims
Recommended to Alan by: I cannot remember, at this late date, how I first came across this remarkable book
Early one morning she was born
In a house with a mother and a midwife
The cool chilly air was suddenly torn
With a slap and a cry—the breath of life!

—"Birthday/Dirgeday," from Miss Butters, by The Family Tree (RCA, 1968)
Many years ago, I checked out of our tiny branch library a singular album called Miss Butters, by The Family Tree, a group which never put out another record. (Wait—don't go! I'll connect the dots soon, I promise...) Miss Butters was one of the very first "concept albums"—it details the whole life, from
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Nopity nope nope. It started out as quasi realistic fiction, and was quite engaging. But then it got all sci-fi-ey and....yuck. Bailed less than ten percent of the way in.
lyell bark
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
the thaw section made me kind of uncomfortable because i was more or less that guy in college but with books instead of arts. ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww ...more
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Read Scotland 2014: Lanark by Alasdair Gray 1 25 Jan 19, 2014 03:34PM  

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Alasdair Gray trained as a painter at the local Glasgow school of art. He was 47 when he published his first novel, Lanark (1981), which combines all sorts of genres, from sf to autobiography and literary criticism, into a fantastic account of the city of Unthank - a thinly disguised Glasgow.

Gray shows an interest in sex which borders on the unhealthy, as indicated by the title of his 1990 n
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“You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes of changes.” 33 likes
“Who did the council fight?"
"It split in two and fought itself."
"That's suicide!"
"No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation."
"I refuse to believe men kill each other just to make their enemies rich."
"How can men recognize their real enemies when their family, schools and work teach them to struggle with each other and to believe law and decency come from the teachers?"
"My son won't be taught that," said Lanark firmly.
"You have a son?"
"Not yet.”
More quotes…