Alasdair Gray Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, before he gained recognition as novelist, Alasdair Gray was known as a playwright and had several radio and television plays to his credit. He also wrote for the stage and drew upon these early dramatic works for several later novels. The television and stage play The Fall of Kelvin Walker (pr. 1972) and the radio play McGrotty and Ludmilla (1976) both became novellas, published individually as books under the same titles.

Gray also has written short stories, which are collected in several volumes. Less frequently he has produced poems and nonfiction, including the notable, and polemical, Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1992). He edited an offbeat contribution to literary history called The Book of Prefaces: A Short History of Literate Thought in Words by Great Writers of Four Nations from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century (2000). As readers familiar with his novels might anticipate, The Book of Prefaces is typographically and visually adventurous, but also historically rigorous.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alasdair Gray’s first novel, Lanark, won immediate recognition as a distinctively Scottish creation. It won the Scottish Book of the Year award and the Scottish Arts Council Book Award. A later novel, Poor Things, was equally innovative, gaining even more attention. It was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award in 1992. Gray has also won awards for his short fiction, most notably Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983), which was recognized with a Cheltenham Prize in 1983.

Gray’s novels were pivotal to the revival of Scottish literature in the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially by helping to create a literary environment favorable to novels about life in Glasgow, a working-class city long overshadowed by Edinburgh. Glasgow University named him a professor of creative writing, alongside two other leading lights of Scottish literature, James Kelman and Tom Leonard.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bernstein, Stephen. Alasdair Gray. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999. The first study of Gray’s novels. Shows the coherence of his varied body of work and places his writing in the contexts of Scottish culture and literature.

Costa, Dominique. “In the Scottish Tradition: Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and 1982 Janine.” Literature of Region and Nation 2, no. 3 (November, 1990). Offers helpful criticism about these two novels.

Crawford, Robert, and Thom Nairn, eds. The Arts of Alasdair Gray. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991. General criticism of Gray’s works.

Diamond-Nigh, Lynne. “Gray’s Anatomy: When Words and Images Collide.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Fall, 1994). A discussion of Poor Things that provides valuable analysis.

Galloway, Janice. “Different Oracles: Me and Alasdair Gray.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Fall, 1994). A discussion of women in Gray’s fiction.

Gifford, Douglas. “Scottish Fiction 1980-1981: The Importance of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.” Studies in Scottish Fiction 18 (1983). Provides criticism and context for Lanark.

Moores, Phil, ed. Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations and Bibliography. Boston Spa, Yorkshire, England: British Library, 2002. A volume of essays that contains a detailed bibliography of Gray’s writing and design, illustrations of his artwork, and original essays. The book jacket was designed by Gray himself, who also contributes a personal view of his career to date.

O’Brien, John, and Mark Axelrod, eds. The Review of Contemporary Fiction 15, no. 2 (Summer, 1995). This issue is entirely devoted to Gray and to American writer Stanley Elkin.