Alasdair Gray: The Fiction of Communion

Alasdair Gray: The Fiction of Communion

Alasdair Gray: The Fiction of Communion

Alasdair Gray: The Fiction of Communion


"Alasdair Gray's writing, and in particular his great novel Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981), is often read as a paradigm of postmodern practice. This study challenges that view by presenting an analysis that is at once more conventional and more strongly radical. By reading Gray in his cultural and intellectual context, and by placing him within the tradition of a Scottish history of ideas that has been largely neglected in contemporary critical writing, Gavin Miller re-opens contact between this highly individualistic artist and those Scottish and European philosophers and psychologists who helped shape his literary vision of personal and national identity. Scottish social anthropology and psychiatry (including the work of W. Robertson Smith, J. G. Frazer and R. D. Laing) can be seen as formative influences on Gray's anti-essentialist vision of Scotland as a mosaic of communities, and of our social need for recognition, acknowledgement and the common life."


In the early 1980s, Scottish literature underwent a period of regeneration in which Glasgow was a focus for new writers. Alasdair Gray was foremost amongst these voices. Although he had published little, Gray was an accomplished visual artist and playwright, and had been Writer in Residence at Glasgow University. Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981), his first published novel, made an extraordinary impact upon Scottish literature, releasing a torrent of new writing from authors such as James Kelman, Janice Galloway, Tom Leonard and Liz Lochhead. Since Lanark, Gray has produced further novels and collections of short stories, as well as occasional political pamphlets and poetry collections. Alongside his work as a writer, Gray has continued to work in the visual arts. This expertise is apparent in his books: they are marvels of typography complemented by his own illustrations.


Alasdair James Gray was born in Glasgow on 28 December 1934 to Alexander and Amy (née Fleming). Gray's father worked in a box-making factory; his mother was a shop assistant for a clothing firm. The family were working class, but lived in a modern and welldesigned housing scheme quite unlike the extreme deprivation of neighbourhoods such as the Gorbals. After the outbreak of World War Two, bombing raids on Glasgow forced the family to evacuate to various locations outside the city. They finally settled in Yorkshire, where Alexander Gray worked as a hostel manager. The Gray family returned to Glasgow after the war, and it was there that Alasdair completed his education.

While at school, Gray's precocious literary and artistic talents were evident. As a high school student, he had stories published in Collins Magazine for Boys and Girls, and read his verse on BBC Radio. However, in a biographical piece from the collection Ten Tales Tall & True (1993), Gray recalls his dislike for the utilitarian emphasis of the Scottish educational system:

Compound interest, sines, cosines, Latin declensions, tables of elements tasted to
my mind like sawdust in my mouth: those who dished it out expected me to swallow
while an almost bodily instinct urged me to vomit. (Gray 1993: 156) . . .

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