Lanark is a big book, not only in size (at 600 pages) but also in scope and ambition. Gray has stated he wished to write an epic of modern Scottish life, and took nearly 30 years to do so.
Lanark is structured in 4 books, although we start with Book 3. Gray has stated that “I want Lanark to be read in one order but eventually thought of in another.”
Lanark: Book 3
A man without a memory arrives in a dark labyrinthine city called Unthank where it is always night, he picks his name Lanark from a faded postcard on a wall, makes friends with a group of students and artists, but is overcome with alientation and angst and eventually developes ‘Dragonhide’ a disease which slowly covers his body with scales, starting with his arm. He is admitted to ‘The Institute’ for a cure, discovers horrifying facts about the diseases and the government and determines to escape.
Lanark: A Life, Books 1 & 2
Switch to a realistic wartime Glasgow, and are the story from the age of 5 of Duncan Thaw in a thinly disguised autobiography of Gray himself. Thaw grows up, loves art, goes to school at the Glasgow School of Art, is wracked by pain and the inability to love, creates a masterpiece painting the ceiling of a small scottish church, but eventually descends into madness and drowns himself.
Lanark Book 4
Book 4 is… different… Lanark finds his way back to Unthank, which is riven with violence and falling apart, a modern city in disintegration. But it also contains many surprises… in the Epilogue, which isn’t at the end of the book Larnark is confronted by the author himself, and has a conversation about the novel, it’s influences, aims, and how it should end. There are also extensive footnotes throughout and a Dictionary of Plagairisms where Gray notes the genesis, influence and effect of everything significant he has read on his own work.
In Summary Lanark is an amazing novel which carries you along with it’s own idiosyncratic brilliance and enriches your life for the better with it’s humour, thought and intelligence. Go beg buy or steal a copy and be changed by it.