He couches his trenchant political commentary in humor, which mostly works well, despite the occasional clumsy rant. Gray's heroes drift through the world, failing to grasp the political reality around them. When a priest begs Lanark to spread word of the evils committed at the institute, he says, "I'll certainly denounce it in conversation . . . but I won't have time to work against it. I'll be working to earn a living." The priest replies sadly that society "profits those who own it, and nowadays many sections are owned by gentle, powerless people who don't know they are cannibals and wouldn't believe if you told them." Sounds a lot like today's stock-owning populace.


By Alasdair Gray
Canongate, 576 pp., $50 (boxed), $16 paper
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It took Gray nearly 25 years to finish Lanark, which explains the book's rough, layered texture. Thaw's chapters (many of them written when he was in his late teens and twenties) vividly re-create the wild jags of youthful exhilaration and despair; Lanark's sections suggest the perspective and hard-earned wisdom of late adulthood. Every page reveals the flushed intensity of our heroes' struggles. And when the final curtain drops, they must leave the narrative just like the rest of us, not knowing how the story will end.

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