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Friday, June 22, 2018

Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981) by Alisdair Gray

Scottish author Alisdair Gray was also an artist, and his drawings illustrate Lanark: A Life in Four Books.
Book Review
Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981)
by Alisdair Gray

  Lanark: A Life in Four Books is an unlikely combination of Kunstlerroman (like a Bildungsroman but for an artist) and dystopian-ish mind fuck in the mold of Samuel Beckett.  Duncan Shaw, the central character in the kunstlerroman, is an obvious stand in for Scottish author Alisdair Gray.  Shaw is raised by a single father, in a working class home in Glasgow.  The narrative of the two books concerning Shaw are bleak, but not relentlessly so.  Shaw tries, and fails to find his way as an artist making life choices that only make sense in the context of mental illness or an existentialist novel.  Shaw is like a Dostoyevsky character without the random violence.

  The other two books, which bracket the kunstlerroman like bread brackets a sandwich, are about Lanark, who is living in a nightmarish parallel present/near future, perhaps after some horrific world wide disaster. The world he portrays is closest to the world that Franz Kafka depicts in The Castle- at time it occured to me that this might even be the same world.   Like Kazuo Ishiguro in The Unconsoled and The Buried Giant, Lanark plays with memory and not-memory.  Both parts of Lanark: A Life in Four Books, work on their own.  How they related together is less clear: Is Lanark some version of Shaw? Is Shaw a creation of the mind of Lanark, or vice versa?  No answers are provided.

 Lanark: A Life in Four Books is an excellent 1001 Books selection- little known here in the United States- and very much a must read for fans of strange literature. 

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