Lanark is massive. It was a pretty big weight to carry around in my handbag, but it did keep me company on a four and a half hour train journey from Edinburgh to London. It was one of those books that attracted attention - oh, what are you reading? - as in, why is it brick sized and shaped, and why is the writing so tiny? Because it's epic.
Told in four books (and a prologue, an interlude, and an epilogue), Lanark follows two stories. There's Duncan Thaw who lives in Glasgow, and Lanark who lives in the fictional city of Unthank. Their lives become interlinked through... well, they just do. They are two stories that are interlinked, interwoven, intereverything to the point where they cross and converge and become both the same. If that sounds intricate and maybe slightly confusing, then it is. But not in a nasty way, but it a whoa, what is going on in my head, kind of way. This is the kind of book that begins at book three and does not end with the epilogue - that's what Gray is playing at.
Lanark, on the other hand, is in Unthank somehow, with no time and no sunlight. He's trapped in a dystopian world where he struggles with society, making friends and knowing women. Always an outsider and considered a bit of a weirdo (in fact, as I write this, I am brought instantly to mind of Radiohead's Creep. Seriously, the song could have been written for Lanark). But he finds himself beginning to be seen as an important person, a somebody with potential to make changes, even though the politics of it all is confusing and elusive. There are similarities between the two throughout, and Lanark even wonders if it's possible that Duncan is him, or vice versa.
One person at work noticed that I didn't bring in a change of book as frequently as usual, and asked if it was really tough going, or if I'd been doing reading in between. The answer to both was yes. As if the size of the thing and its font wasn't enough warning, there was the set up of four books, and two different worlds. It is, actually, properly, epic: long, and quite great. Reading other stuff in between was to give my head a break. Not that is was horrible to contend with (though parts of it are rather hefty), but staying with Duncan and Lanark for so long was difficult. There were just days when being with either of them was the last thing I wanted - not an easy ride when your head isn't in the right place, or when you want something cosy and warm. But I love my literature so darkly inclined and I was well rewarded with a fantastically clever read. At points, the clever ratings were stupendously high and I did feel like I was sharing headspace with Duncan/Lanark/Gray at close quarters.
Really, it isn't any wonder that Lanark took around twenty five years to write. The thing is mammoth, and too careful and deliberate to be just an exaggerated whim. This review feels like it's taken a while, and still I don't feel like I've really said enough. But Lanark isn't the kind of book you can put your finger on with one sentence. Despite all the striving and heartache of both Duncan and Lanark, I felt a good sense of satisfaction on finishing the novel, and not just because it was so big. Resolve is really not the word that springs to mind, nor ideas about redemption, or relief. And yet, I put down Lanark feeling as though it had been nothing but a privilege to read.
"I ought to have more love before I die. I've not had enough."