The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Alasdair Gray worked on Lanark: A Life in Four Books for at least twenty years and claims to have written parts of the book at the age of eighteen. Portions of Lanark appeared in Scottish International Review (1969), Glasgow University Magazine (1974), and Words (1978, 1979).

Lanark chronicles the journeys of Duncan Thaw through the disintegrating afterworld city of Unthank and back to memories of a prior life in a stagnant, post-industrial Glasgow. Thaw, with his memories wiped clean upon his arrival in Unthank, takes the name of Lanark.

As Lanark, Thaw is nothing as simple as a ghost; as with the other inhabitants of this sunless afterworld, the actions he takes have serious repercussions. Unthank is a hell that magnifies and intensifies all the worst elements of life on Earth, such as corruption, crime, and political and environmental irresponsibility. Against this backdrop, mouths flap like wings through the gravel sky while men and women encased in thick “dragon hide,” reflecting a soul-sickness, burn up or crack open their skins to emerge naked and reborn.

Lanark becomes embroiled with the ambitious Sludden and his clique, who mean to overthrow Unthank’s leadership. Sludden’s consort, Rima, is a shrewish woman who knew Thaw, thus accounting for her attraction to and repulsion against Lanark. Lanark’s pursuit of a reluctant Rima is cut short by the accelerated growth of his dragon hide. Seeking a remedy, Lanark plunges into the maw...

(The entire section is 627 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Atlantic. Review. CCLV (June, 1985), p. 104.

Fantasy Review. Review. VIII (June, 1985), p. 18.

The New York Times Book Review. Review. XC (May 5, 1985), p. 14.

Roy, G. Ross. Review in World Literature Today. LVI (Summer, 1982), p. 557.

The Village Voice Literary Supplement. Review. December, 1984, p. 15.