The city stretched beneath his arms was a cluster of skyscrapers & factories, pylons, gasworks & clocktowers, its coastline fraught with crested waves, its hills rising through the urban sprawl like naked limbs. A closer look found the monster-humps of the Forth Bridge bounding over black, nameless water; what was surely the paddle steamer Waverley chugged a narrower channel further south. And there, no mistake, were Glasgow Cathedral & the Necropolis overlooking Dennistoun.


At the foot, sitting on the rim of the picture frame and almost missable, was a tiny man with glasses; someone, in the later words of the book itself, “whose bewildered face looked straight out at the viewers, making them feel part of the multitude too”. And he was looking, it seemed, at me.

That the solid black lines of the cover encompassed a text chunky as a doorstop is another authorial joke, for Lanark is a novel built on shifting sands, defying solidity at a number of levels. Opening it reveals not one, but four books arranged slightly out of synch on a vaguely epic canvas stitched about with literary allusions and quotations, aphorisms, illustrations, and sermons. Within these books, the stories of Duncan Thaw and Lanark, men who inhabit cities called Glasgow and Unthank, interlace and reflect upon each other. Thaw, who is revealed from the age of five or so, inhabits more the “naturalistic” books; Lanark, ageing by the page, the more surreal, but that the cities are the same city, both men the same man is never in question. There is nothing particularly complicated in that.

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