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Gray, Alasdair. Lanark.


"Book Three"

Lanark spends a month going to the café Elite, sitting alone at the balcony and watching in vain for the sun to appear. He then joins one of the cliques in the café, the one centered around Sludden and his lovers. Lanark gets interested in one of them called Rima. He misses his chance to get closer to her when he runs toward the vision of a dawn and leaves Rima behind. At his lodgings with Mrs Fleck, he decides to write down all he remembers. His manuscript tells that he got in the city of Unthank, identical with a corrupt Glasgow, by an empty train, was diagnosed dragonhide when examined by a doctor and was left to live on the social security system. The less he tries to be useful by doing some work, the worse his disease grows. He finds out that Rima has the same disease as him, while Sludden's fiancée Gay has another disease of having mouths spread on her hands and her body who talk and argue with her. Everyone in the city has his own disease. Desperate Lanark wants to get out of the city, a mouth opens in the ground and he jumps in. He wakes up the Institute, a medical establishment where he gets cured from dragonhide and is forced to become one of the doctors. Lanark finds out the Institute uses dying patients to transform them into energy and into food. He miracurously cures a helpless patient who was turning into a dragon but instead of exploding, the dragon becomes the beautiful Rima who agrees to leave with Lanark for sunlight.


Lanark asks an oracle to tell him about his former life.

"Book One"

The oracle starts telling the story of Duncan Thaw, an asthamatic boy with strict though loving parents. With the beginning of WW II, the family moves from Glasgow to a hostel on the sea side. Problematic Duncan has troubles with his father who does not cease to love him but becomes closer to Duncan's unproblematic sister. His father tries to make Duncan do hiking with him but he refuses and climbs the mountain of Ben Rua alone instead. Contemplative Duncan closely observes things around him and keeps looking for what he calls a key to unlock the meaning of everything. He fails to find any. Duncan's mother dies of liver disease.


"To remind us that Thaw's story exists within the hull of Lanark's."

"Book Two"

Duncan gets involved with pictorial arts and starts attending an art school, supported by a grant and by his self-sacrificing old father. Duncan has a brief relationship with Marjory Laidlaw but breaks up with her on her failure to come and serve him as a model for his painting. He suffers from asthmatic fits which finally lead him to a prolonged stay in a hospital. There he gets acquainted with a priest to whom he promises to do church decoration in order to prevent the closing down of the church. He gets deeply involved in the task and produces a highly nonconformist version of Genesis for which he is severely critised. The church is lost. The task prevents him to attend to his final examinations and he leaves the art school without degree. His father leaves him to use the house and moves to the country himself, disappointed with Duncan's incomprehensible performance. The oracle concludes Duncan's story with his murdering a girl and comitting suicide by drowning in the sea.

"Book Four"

Lanark and Rima make their way through a dark labyrinth of corridors to reach Unthank. They are accomodated in a cathedral where Rima gives birth to their son Alexander. Rima starts believing that Lanark is a failure both as a husband and a father and leaves him to join Sludden. Lanark replaces Sludden as a diplomatic delegate to Provan to speak for Unthank and save the decaying city from final destruction.


Lanark confronts his author who tries to explain his imaginative vision and refuses Lanark a happy ending. The text is accompanied by an idex of "plagiarisms" which were used throughout the book.

"Continuation of Book Four"

Lanark fails as a delegate because he urinates off a bridge and spends his time in Provan in a police cell. He returns to Unthank where he faces the destruction of the city. His son Alexander carries his now old father to a safe place. Lanark meets Rima pregnant with another man. A stranger appears to announce Lanark the exact time of his death tomorrow. Lanark stares at the light produced by apocalyptic flames on the horizont.



- illustrated by the author's own black and white drawings somewhat in the art nouveau style

- a multilayered dystopian vision of the world with sci-fi elements but strictly realistic characters

- the characters keep on diasppearing and re-appearing in new social-economic positions

- the anti-hero's quest for some meaning ends up as meaningless as ever, in his banal death by old age


- physical diseases connected with mental ones

- the exploitation by a ruthless scientific ruling class

- unhealthy and distorted relationships

- the artistic vision and the artist

- processes of creation, birth and re-birth

- the helplessness of an individual in the face of an ineffective government


  • Author

    Gray, Alasdair. (b. 1934).
  • Full Title

    Lanark. A Life in Four Books.
  • First Published

    Edinburgh: Canongate, 1981.
  • Form


Works Cited

Gray, Alasdair. Lanark. (1981). London: Paladin, 1989.


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