Authors: Alasdair Gray

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Scottish novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Lanark: A Life in Four Books, 1981

1982 Janine, 1984

The Fall of Kelvin Walker: A Fable of the Sixties, 1985

McGrotty and Ludmilla: Or, The Harbinger Report–A Romance of the Eighties, 1989

Something Leather, 1990

Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless, M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, 1992

A History Maker, 1994

Short Fiction:

Unlikely Stories, Mostly, 1983, revised 1997

Lean Tales, 1985 (with James Kelman and Agnes Owen)

Ten Tales Tall and True: Social Realism, Sexual Comedy, Science Fiction, 1993

Drama:

Dialogue, pr. 1971

The Fall of Kelvin Walker, pr. 1972

The Loss of the Golden Silence, pr. 1973

Tickly Mince, pr. 1982 (with Tom Leonard and Liz Lochhead)

The Pie of Damocles, pr. 1983 (with Leonard and Lochhead)

Working Legs: A Two-Act Play for Disabled Performers, pb. 1997

Teleplays:

The Fall of Kelvin Walker, 1968

Dialogue, 1972

Triangles, 1972

The Man Who Knew About Electricity, 1973

Honesty, 1974

Today and Yesterday, 1975 (educational documentary)

Beloved, 1976

The Gadfly, 1977

The Story of a Recluse, 1987

Radio Plays:

Quiet People, 1968

The Night Off, 1969

Thomas Muir of Huntershill, 1970

The Loss of the Golden Silence, 1974

McGrotty and Ludmilla, 1976

The Vital Witness, 1979

Near the Driver, 1988

Poetry:

Old Negatives, 1989

Sixteen Occasional Poems, 1990-2000, 2000

Nonfiction:

Saltire Self-Portrait 4, 1988 (autobiography)

Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, 1992

Edited Texts:

The Anthology of Prefaces, 1989

The Book of Prefaces: A Short History of Literate Thought in Words by Great Writers of Four Nations from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century, 2000

Miscellaneous:

Mavis Belfrage: A Romantic Novel, with Five Shorter Tales, 1996

Biography

Alasdair James Gray is generally regarded as one of the foremost practitioners of postmodern and socially relevant fiction. He was born into a working class family–his father ran a box-making machine in a factory–and until he was twenty-five years old he lived in the family apartment in Glasgow, Scotland, where he had grown up. During World War II, the family was briefly evacuated from their home, and this dislocation, along with Gray’s tendency to have nightmares and asthma attacks, underlay the creation of the apocalyptic backdrop to his first novel, Lanark. Gray was educated in primary and secondary schools, as well as at the Glasgow School of Art. His experiences while attending art school provided material for the naturalistic sections of Lanark. Glasgow, however, provided the inspiration, for growing up there during the 1940’s and 1950’s meant witnessing the dismantling of the Scottish industrial economy as well as the defeat of a Socialist movement that Gray had believed could create a way for Scotland to move toward a humane and lasting prosperity.{$I[AN]9810001931}{$I[A]Gray, Alasdair}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Gray, Alasdair}{$I[tim]1934;Gray, Alasdair}

After graduating from art school, Gray made his living as a teacher, portrait and mural painter, and radioplay and teleplay writer. In the late 1960’s, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) chose Gray to be the subject of a documentary. This sudden notoriety after complete obscurity became the subject of his television play The Fall of Kelvin Walker and, later, a short novel by the same name.

As of the age of eighteen, Gray worked on Lanark, parts of which appeared in Scottish International Review in 1969, in Glasgow University Magazine in 1974, and in Words in 1978 and 1979. Once it appeared in 1981, this work garnered high praise from a number of critics. The novelist Anthony Burgess wrote in Ninety-nine Novels: The Best Since 1939 (1984), “It was time Scotland produced a shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom. This is it.” The novel’s originality lies in the often playful juxtaposition of the surreal and the naturalistic, a juxtaposition Gray employs in the service of satire and social commentary. What most impressed the critics, however, was the poignancy of the main character’s quest for literal and figurative light against the backdrop of Glasgow and the sunless, disintegrating afterworld city of Unthank.

Gray followed Lanark with the short-story collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly and his second novel, 1982 Janine. Unlikely Stories, Mostly, with its brilliant central story “Five Letters from an Eastern Empire,” confirmed Gray’s stature as a major innovator and storyteller. 1982 Janine, an examination of pornography within a political and social context, was considered among the best of its genre written in the 1980’s.

The subsequent novels The Fall of Kelvin Walker and McGrotty and Ludmilla were greeted with critical ambivalence, however, and Something Leather received some of the worst reviews of Gray’s career. That novel’s cross-stitched tales of repression and sadomasochism was found to lack cohesion, although many of the segments, especially “The Man Who Knew About Electricity,” worked very well as self-contained short stories. In “Critic-fuel,” Gray’s epilogue to Something Leather, he revealed that he had written the book in an attempt to regain inspiration by writing about female characters, and he acknowledged that “imagination will not employ whom it cannot surprise.”

Yet Gray’s next novel, Poor Things, proved that Something Leather had indeed been Gray’s first, stumbling step toward reimagining his fiction. A faux Victorian novel with a Frankenstein theme and several conflicting narratives, this work won a number of awards, among them the Whitbread Prize, and reestablished Gray as a preeminent postmodern author. The novel triumphs on several levels: as a vastly entertaining parody, as a serious examination of women’s rights, and as a profile of a true innocent abroad in the world.

Later works, such as Ten Tales Tall and True and A History Maker, suggest continuing rejuvenation of Gray’s interest in fiction as a form of expression. His writing has consistently displayed three qualities: boundless imagination, a sharp eye for the absurdity of modern life, and brave experimentation with narrative structure.

BibliographyBernstein, Stephen. Alasdair Gray. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999. The first study of Gray’s novels. Shows the coherence of his varied body of work and places his writing in the contexts of Scottish culture and literature.Costa, Dominique. “In the Scottish Tradition: Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and 1982 Janine.” Literature of Region and Nation 2, no. 3 (November, 1990). Offers helpful criticism about these two novels.Crawford, Robert, and Thom Nairn, eds. The Arts of Alasdair Gray. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991. General criticism of Gray’s works.Diamond-Nigh, Lynne. “Gray’s Anatomy: When Words and Images Collide.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Fall, 1994). A discussion of Poor Things that provides valuable analysis.Galloway, Janice. “Different Oracles: Me and Alasdair Gray.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Fall, 1994). A discussion of women in Gray’s fiction.Gifford, Douglas. “Scottish Fiction 1980-1981: The Importance of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.” Studies in Scottish Fiction 18 (1983). Provides criticism and context for Lanark.Moores, Phil, ed. Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations and Bibliography. Boston Spa, Yorkshire, England: British Library, 2002. A volume of essays that contains a detailed bibliography of Gray’s writing and design, illustrations of his artwork, and original essays. The book jacket was designed by Gray himself, who also contributes a personal view of his career to date.O’Brien, John, and Mark Axelrod, eds. The Review of Contemporary Fiction 15, no. 2 (Summer, 1995). This issue is entirely devoted to Gray and to American writer Stanley Elkin.
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