Alasdair Gray's first novel Lanark (first published in 1981) immediately established him as one of the most important Scottish voices of his generation and this astounding work as one of the key British novels of the last century. Magnificent in its reach and unequalled in the adulation of its critical response, Lanark is a massive book.
Perversely we start our reading with Book 3--the hero of this and the last book in the quartet, the eponymous Lanark, lives in a bizarre and fantastical future in a grey, dreary city called Unthank. He doesn't remember how he got there nor who he really is. He hangs around a local cafe with some other young people whose values and mores he can't quite figure. All around people are disappearing. Then he contracts dragonhide... and disappears too. He wakes in an institute and is told the sad but instructional tale of Duncan Thaw (the boy he used to be, the boy, in a sense, Alasdair Gray used to be).
Duncan, unknowingly speaking of the epic of which he is the centre, who we meet as a child and watch grow into an artist , says "I want to write a modern Divine Comedy with illustrations in the style of William Blake." And it is Duncan's story that is the heart of Lanark--and what a poignant, heart-breaking tale it is. From a boy who can never accept or offer or understand love, who cannot connect, to an artist who cannot accept that he cannot have the final word--both in his own life and in his art--Duncan's tale is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age story.
Lanark is a work of huge imagination and wonderful range; it is about all of our selves, how we make them and make them up; it is about place and what that means for identity and it is about love--how we can learn to love our selves, or fail to, how we need to love, both ourselves and others, to create communities in which we can create art that will promote a continuing project of place in which we can love each other better. Lanark is peerless. --Mark Thwaite