I first read Lanark a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away). It's a boom to read, read and read again.
Lanark defies description. Like Slaughterhouse Five it is both outlandish science-fiction and obvious autobiography, like The Third Policeman it makes use of lengthy footnotes that say absolutely nothing, it begins with book three, has a prologue halfway through, and it includes a long index of plagiarisms in the middle of a discussion between the author and his lead character. Like many difficult books it is probably better appreciated on subsequent readings, but it is likely to grab you from the off. Books 3 and 4 (which you read first and last) are about Lanark, a man who arrives by train in a strange town. Having no name, he takes one from a sepia-tinted tourist-photograph he saw on the compartment wall. The city has no daylight and the inhabitants do no work, living off subsistence-level grants from an unseen power. Many people suffer from oddly symbolic diseases. Lanark develops 'dragonhide', a physical manifestation of Wilhelm Reich's emotional armouring, which smothers his arm in thick heavy scales and claws where his fingers were, one of his friends develops 'mouths' the symptoms of which involves mouths opening like wounds over the body which then speak independently of the sufferer. Lanark commits suicide and comes round in 'The Institute'. The Institute is devoted to curing those it can, but uses the hopeless cases as fuel (dragonhide sufferers eventually 'go nova' if uncured, when their pent-up emotions cause their bodies to explode, which energy is harnessed to power generators) or as food (the glutinous 'softs' are turned into a processed blancmange-like substance which Lanark refuses to eat when he discovers its source). This is only part of the opening book. The novel later trips back to Glasgow just after the war, where we meet Thaw (who it would appear is Lanark in a previous incarnation) for books 2 and 3. I will stop the description here, because it cannot do the book justice.Or as it says here
Lanark is one of the great novels of our time, a surreal mural of unsettling images and ideas vigorously coloured with anarchic humour, an epic fable that subverts submission to hypocritical social codes.Time spent reading Lanark is time well spent.
Here's an exhibtion of Gray's preliminary work on Lanark.
Here's an interview with the man.
Here's the end of this Alasdair Gray fest. But I forgot to tell you where to get Lanark.
Here's the fancy box set. And here's the other one.