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Lanark: A Life in Four Books

Bildungsroman, Lanark

gray ‘lanark’ fantasy power

a novel by Alisdair Gray, published in 1981. After belated publication, sections being written between 1952 and 1976, the book's magisterial qualities established Gray as both a leading post-modernist and exemplary Scottish artist. Two narratives are interwoven over 560 pages. Books I and II recount the fraught early life of ‘Duncan Thaw’, an art student growing up in postwar Scotland, while Books III and IV recount his after-life as ‘Lanark’, who becomes an ambassador travelling from The Institute (a research centre and seat of political power) through the Inter-calendrical Zone to the threatened city of Unthank, phantasmagoric twin of Glasgow. The structure is ordered so that Thaw's Bildungsroman is contained within Lanark's epic fantasy; the novel signalled Gray's characteristic mix of social history, polemic, fantasy, and pastiche with other devices highlighting his authorship—illustrations, facetious notes, and typographical extravagances. In a comical epilogue, ‘Lanark’ confronts his creator, alongside an ‘index of diffuse and imbedded Plagiarisms’ semi-seriously pointing out the book's wealth of references to international literature. The serious subtext of Lanark is an elaborate allegory of political power and its human consequences, but what remains most striking is the density of inventiveness and visual imagination derived from Gray's complementary career as a painter.

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