I do not know how many of you have read Alasdair Gray's excellent dystopian novel, Lanark: a Life in Four Books? It takes place partly in Glasgow and partly in an imaginary Glasgow, known as Unthank. In Unthank the characters are forever chasing sunlight whilst seemingly dying of a symbolic disease known as 'dragonhide' (Yes, well, Lanark isn't your average book). Right now I am feeling like I'm living in Unthank-Glasgow and not Glasgow-Glasgow because sunlight seems just out of reach and like something I vaguely remember from a dream. I have a lot of time for Alasdair Gray. He is one of those novelists I am never sure whether people will like or not. I tend to recommend Poor Things as the gateway to Gray's oeuvre: it reads like a postmodern feminist Frankenstein; it is exuberant and giddy; and it is wildly entertaining. Unlikely Stories, Mostly is a rare beast: a short story collection which feels like a cohesive book and which is also a compulsive read. The stories ranges from short childhood snippets to the fantastic typographic fantasy of "Sir Thomas' Logopandocy" about Sir Thomas Urquhart (it remains my favourite piece by Gray). Lanark tends to divide people - my boyfriend still cannot believe that I like a book that nasty and unpleasant, but then again he has not read Gray's 1982, Janine which is Gray's tour-de-force in sheer unpleasantness and utter despair (and I really like that one too).
I once spent a lot of time looking at how Alasdair Gray imagines the Book as an object. 1982, Janine is not only a typographical wonder (at one point the protagonist attempts suicide which is portrayed in visual poetry) but its hardcover is beautifully decorated by Gray himself. I always try to get hold of Gray's books in hardcover whenever I can because underneath the dust jackets, you get elaborate beautiful books. Gray also writes his own blurbs, controls the typesetting and draws his own illustrations. The Book of Prefaces is as close as Gray has come to a postmodern Gesamtkunstwerk. The book is beautiful, of course, but Gray adds an extra layer by writing prefaces to the selected prefaces and writing prefaces to those prefaces. It is all rather dazzling.
And as fate would have it, I have ended up in Glasgow. Alasdair Gray lives just a few streets down from me (I may have said "Good afternoon, sir" once or twice), my local pub features his artwork and my boyfriend has drawn him at art class. Strange how these things work out.