Don't call it a comeback, and no - I didn't retire. I'll have you know I've been doing some hard reading over the past month! I managed to plough through this modern epic, and left another couple of books abandoned at the side of the road.
Lanark's got a bit of a reputation as a difficult read but although I started flagging a couple of times, something great always managed to pop up in time. It's really two novels welded together into one. It starts in a dystopian version of Glasgow called Unthank where the sun never rises and people vanish as they turn into dragons. It feels more like a bad dream than science fiction, and it's never completely convincing.
The book takes a turn for the better as the lead character (Lanark himself) is shown his previous life from a child to a tortured young painter. This is the most successful part of the book, and it's strongly autobiographical. It doesn't stop Gray painting the character Thaw as a weird, selfish, socially dysfunctional little prick. I think there's more than a touch of self-flagellation going on here from the author.
The last part of the book picks up Lanark's story again. I liked this better than the first fantasy section, as our hero travels back to Unthank with his beloved girlfriend (who clearly hates his guts) and accidently becomes a prominent political figure. There's a lot of really sharp satire here - stuff I haven't seen before. How Scotland changed from a manufacturing to a public sector economy; the transformation of Glasgow's skyline over the decades (not least the M8) and the way the elites in local government and business behave.
But the biggest target of the satire is the book itself. Alasdair Gray himself turns up towards the end, ripping right into his own masterwork. There's even an "index of plagiarisms" which show what ideas, scenes and dialogue he's stolen from where, even down to where he's stolen the idea for a boring fake index in a novel. What's really interesting is when you notice many of the entries are about chapters which go beyond the end of the book, and give you clues about what happens next, even while mocking the whole stupid plot. We've seen this kind of po-mo thing before with mixed results, but I loved it here.
Not a perfect novel by any means, but really enjoyable. I wonder though if I got more out of it from growing up in Glasgow. The Cathedral and the Necropolis especially loom large both in Thaw's city and Unthank. It does feel like he's writing his hometown a valentine and poison pen letter in one. All great cities deserve such a treatment