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The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind

Polygon, 2008, 248 p, plus viii p introduction by Alasdair Gray. In The Dear Green Place and Fur Sadie.

Borrowed from a threatened library. (One of the 100 Best Scottish Books.)

 The Dear, Green Place cover

Many Scottish novels betray a love of the country’s landscape, some even start with descriptions of it. So too it is with The Dear, Green Place, except – the place in question being Glasgow – it’s a cityscape we are reading about. Glasgow’s name is supposedly from the Gaelic Gles Chu, (“the dear green place”) the location where St Mungo (St Kentigern in the Celtic) built his little church and founded the settlement which became the second city of the empire. As described here, “A Calvinist, Protestant city. The influx of Roman Catholic Irish and Continental Jews had done nothing to change it. Even they in the end became Calvinist.” (This is true not just of Glasgow but reflective of Scotland as a whole.)

Our protagonist, Mat Craig, thinks of the city that, “the foundries, steelworks, warehouses, railways, factories, ships, the great industrial and inventive exploits seemed to give it all a kind of charm, a feeling of energy and promise,” and finds pride in the thought that during the (1945-51) Labour Government’s first term of office domestic life changed from sordidness and squalor to become decent. Like many a working man of the times he is well read – the text is peppered with references to art and literature, in particular to Thomas Mann – and capable of finding the dynamic sublime in the dripping of raindrops from one rail of a fence to another. “The dynamic sublime. A wee Glesca one. All on a reduced scale.” On New Year celebrations he feels that it is, “good in the depth of winter to have a formal and ceremonious occasion for the release of inhibitions, but in Glasgow drink still leaves the sober certainty of the bitterness of life and the inexorable passage of time.”

His great ambition is to be a writer but his mother is against him getting above himself. She complains when he gives up his office job, “It’s a guid respectable job with a collar and tie.” He replies, “Aye. It’s respectable. And I’m fed up to the teeth with respectability. As soon as anyone shows any sign of gumption you want him to become respectable. Put a collar and tie on. It’s in case they’ll bite. They’re frightened they’ll bite. And so they will. The ones that don’t get collared.” But, he thought, he would always have to make concessions to others just because he loved them. “It was exactly thus that conscience makes cowards of us all.”

He marries and to make ends meet goes to work alongside his brother in a slaughterhouse. There are vivid descriptions of the processes involved in rendering an animal fit for human consumption. He meets with minor success with a few short stories written in a style he knows will sell but completing his novel is a more elusive task. Even stopping work and living on his and his wife’s savings isn’t enough. He feels a deep attachment to his art, “obliging him to accept the arrogant task of creating art out of deprivation rather than choose the easy way of leaving deprivation behind him…. To attempt the difficult, almost impossible task of making art out of his Scottishness rather than turn towards a sophisticated, successful but alien tradition.”

On the death of his father in a lorry accident he thinks, “everything in human life – the everyday common tasks, sex, love, contentment, aspiration, ordinary human intercourse, hope, laughter, were like dirty snivelling little secrets being uncovered by this sneering, wicked, expedient, mechanistic force that was the world,” and conceives “a story of this bonny wean, of a gifted child who’d scatter his useless gifts about the world; a story of prodigality, of waste, of squandering, which would contain all his sourness, pessimism and accusation; and his love too.”

An intensely literary book, The Dear, Green Place is about the struggle to stay yourself and be true to a vision, and the difficulties that lie along that path. And a reminder that knowledge and deep thinking do not belong exclusively to the well-heeled.

According to Alasdair Gray’s introduction (again I left this till after reading the book) Hind’s shorter works – plays, radio scripts and some short stories – are now lost. All that remains of his œuvre is contained within this book’s covers. The Dear, Green Place is the major part and acts in contrast to the stereotypical view of Glasgow and its inhabitants as portrayed in the likes of No Mean City. Gray tells us that Gles Chu has been previously translated as green hollow, green churchyard, greyhounds ferry, dear stream, and later, in Glasgow’s industrial, imperial pomp, grey forge or grey smithy but that the dear green place, Hinds’s own translation, is now generally accepted. Though sometimes, still – even now the smoke and the industry have largely gone – that description can seem inapt, the city does have an abundance of parks and leafy spaces.

The other large story in these covers is the unfinished Fur Sadie, the story of Sadie Anderson, a woman with perfect pitch – her ‘doh’ (in her head she can translate intervals and chords into sol-fa) – who, remembering her childhood friend Anna Berman playing the piano, in middle age buys one of her own and starts to get lessons – despite the incomprehension and teasing she receives from her husband, Alec, and sons, Hugh and Colin. In a pun on musical terminology and the position of a working class woman of her time Hind tells us Sadie had always known how to diminish. Despite many years of marriage and three children together Sadie and Alec had never seen one another naked, “A terrible modesty that excluded sexuality from the commonplace acts of the day and, denying ordinary acts of touching and looking, denied a way of expressing tenderness.” This “modesty” surrounding the human body (pudency would be an even more apt term) was an all too prevalent tendency in a Scotland steeped in Calvinism. The story’s title is not only a reference to Beethoven’s piano composition Für Elise but also to the way the word “for” is pronounced in Glasgow dialect. Fur Sadie acts as a companion piece to The Dear, Green Place in that it features another working class protagonist with aspirations to artistic endeavour but it has a more optimistic feel. It’s a pity it is incomplete (apparently Hind said, “It developed a slow puncture,”) as Sadie is an engaging character and this reader of the fragment was definitely left wanting more.

The final prose piece in the book, The Men of the Clyde, appeared in Scottish International, August 1973, and is an encomium to the workers of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in. Lastly there is a song lyric, The Dear Green Place, (composed with Peter Kelly) from a review Through with a Flourish presented at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1971.

Pedant’s corner:- compatability, (compatibility,) grills (grilles,) rough shod (roughshod,) in a list “paraffin. turpentine,” (paraffin, turpentine,) octopi (octopuses or, the Greek plural, octopodes,) the cuticle of the nails (cuticles would be more correct,) tick (tic,) Anna’s surname flicks from Bermant to Berman and back,) worried at lot (worried a lot,) piano stood (stool,) just that same (just the same,) waked in (walked in,) rubbing a corned (corner,) “Beethoven’s sly double use of the piece, which was for Elsie in the concession to unlearned fingers and that it was for Elsie in that it seemed to express, sensuously, her young bloom” (should not both these Elsies be Elises?)

100 Best Scottish Books (Maybe)

I came across this list a week or so ago. There are some odd choices in it. The Woolf and Orwell are surely pushing it a bit to qualify as in any way Scottish. And The King James Bible? Yes he was primarily a Scottish King but the endeavour was undertaken for reasons to do with his English realm.

Those in bold, I have read. There’s a lot I haven’t. Time to pull my socks up.

(Edited to add:- Those with a * I have now read.)

John Galt – Annals of the Parish* (1821) is on my tbr pile. I’ve read The Member and The Radical. See my review here.
Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul – An Oidhche Mus Do Sheòl Sinn (2003) This is written in Gaelic and hence beyond my competence.
Kate Atkinson – Behind the Scenes at the Museum – (1995) I read this years ago.
Ian Rankin – Black and Blue (1997) I’ve not read this Rankin but I have Knots and Crosses.
Laura Hird – Born Free (1999)
Tom Nairn – The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (1977) Non-fiction
Frederic Lindsay – Brond (1984)
Naomi Mitchison – The Bull Calves (1947) Not a Mitchison I’ve read but I’ll need to catch up with more of her work.
Anne Donovan – Buddha Da* (2003)
Matthew Fitt – But n Ben A-Go-Go (2000) Science Fiction in Scots! Brilliant stuff.
Patrick MacGill – Children of the Dead End (1914)
AJ Cronin -The Citadel (1937) Cronin was from Dumbarton. I’ll need to read him sometime.
Frank Kuppner – A Concussed History of Scotland (1990)
Robin Jenkins – The Cone-Gatherers (1955)
Thomas De Quincey – Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822)
Iain Crichton Smith – Consider the Lilies (1968)
R. M. Ballantyne – The Coral Island (1858) I may have read this as a child but I cannot actually remember doing so.
Louise Welsh – The Cutting Room (2002)
Robert Alan Jamieson – A Day at the Office (1991)
Archie Hind – The Dear Green Place* (1966)
James Kelman – A Disaffection (1989) I read years ago. Kelman is essential.
RD Laing – The Divided Self (1960) non-fiction
William McIlvanney – Docherty (1975) Again read years ago. Again McIlvanney is essential reading.
David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) Philosophy. I haven’t read this.
Andrew Greig – Electric Brae (1997) A superb first novel. See my review here.
Tobias Smollett – The Expedition of Humphry Clinker* (1771) Smollet was from Renton, which is 2 miles from Dumbarton.
Violet Jacob – Flemington* (1911)
Agnes Owens – For the Love of Willie (1998) See my review here.
Ian Fleming – From Russia, With Love (1957) Fleming? Scottish? Only by extraction it seems.
Dorothy Dunnett – The Game of Kings (1961)
Denise Mina – Garnethill (1998)
James Frazer – The Golden Bough (1890)
Nancy Brysson Morrison – The Gowk Storm* (1933)
Bernard MacLaverty – Grace Notes (1997)
George Mackay Brown – Greenvoe* (1972)
Alistair MacLean – The Guns of Navarone (1957) I read this many years ago. Decent enough wartime thriller.
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness (1902) Conrad was the favourite author of the original Jack Deighton (my grandfather.) I’ve read The Secret Agent and always mean to get round to more. But… Wasn’t Conrad Polish?
John Prebble – The Highland Clearances (1963) Non-fiction
Ali Smith – Hotel World (2001) See my review here.
Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
George Douglas Brown – The House with the Green Shutters (1901) A Scottish classic; see my review.
Willa Muir – Imagined Corners (1931)
Luke Sutherland – Jelly Roll (1998)
Chaim Bermant – Jericho Sleep Alone (1964) is on the tbr pile.
James Robertson – Joseph Knight (2003) Robertson is another of those very good present day Scottish authors. My review of Joseph Knight.
Various – King James Bible: Authorised Version (1611) ???? See comments above.
Alasdair Gray – Lanark (1981) Absolutely superb stuff. More essential reading.
Ronald Frame – The Lantern Bearers (1999)
James Boswell – The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
Bella Bathurst – The Lighthouse Stevensons (1999) Non-fiction. I bought this for the good lady and it’s another I keep meaning to read.
George MacDonald – Lilith (1895) The Scottish tradition is to write fantasy rather than SF. I’ll need to catch up with this.
John Burnside – Living Nowhere (2003)
Anne Fine – Madame Doubtfire (1987)
Alan Spence – The Magic Flute (1990) I’ve read his Way to Go.
Des Dillon – Me and Ma Gal (1995)
Margaret Oliphant – Miss Marjoribanks (1866)
Alan Warner – Morvern Callar (1995) I think Warner’s most recent books The Worms can Carry me to Heaven and The Deadman’s Pedal are more successful.
George Friel – Mr Alfred, MA (1972)
Neil Munro – The New Road (1914)
William Laughton Lorimer (trans.) – The New Testament in Scots (1983)
George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) I know it was written on Jura but Orwell? Scottish?
Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long – No Mean City: A Story of the Glasgow Slums* (1935)
Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998)
Christopher Brookmyre – One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night 1999) Brookmyre is a fun read – if a little too liberal with the violence. But this isn’t even his best book. See my review here.
Catherine Carswell – Open the Door!* (1920)
Andrew O’Hagan – Our Fathers (1999) I have yet to warm to O’Hagan. My review of this book.
A.L. Kennedy – Paradise (2004) Kennedy’s more recent Day and The Blue Book impressed me more.
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) My review is here.
James Hogg – The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) The quintessential Scots novel. The döppelganger tradition starts here.
Suhayl Saadi – Psychoraag (2004)
Nan Shepherd – The Quarry Wood (1928)
Walter Scott – Rob Roy (1818) Scott more or less invented the Scots historical novel but I can only remember reading Ivanhoe.
Thomas Carlyle – Sartor Resartus (1836) Anothe disgraceful omission on my part I fear.
Toni Davidson – Scar Culture (1999)
Margaret Elphinstone – The Sea Road (2000) I’ve read Elphinstone’s A Sparrow’s Flight and The Incomer; but not this.
Jimmy Boyle – A Sense of Freedom (1977)
George Blake – The Shipbuilders (1935)
Gordon Williams – The Siege of Trencher’s Farm (1969)
Neil M Gunn – The Silver Darlings* (1941) Of Gunn’s work I recently read The Well at the World’s End.
Ron Butlin – The Sound of My Voice (1987) I’ve not read his poetry but Butlin’s fiction is excellent. My review of The Sound of my Voice.
Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde* (1886) Following on the döppelganger tradition from Hogg. Again I can’t remember if I’ve read it or just watched adapatations on TV.
Jeff Torrington – Swing Hammer Swing! (1992)
Lewis Grassic Gibbon – Sunset Song (1932) A brilliant novel. Worth its status as a classic. See my thoughts here.
John Buchan – The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)
Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse (1927)
Irvine Welsh – Trainspotting (1993)
Janice Galloway – The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989) I fear Galloway is an acquired taste. See here.
Jackie Kay – Trumpet (1998) I read this last year.
Christopher Rush – A Twelvemonth and a Day (1985)
Michel Faber – Under the Skin (2000)
David Lindsay – A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) In the Scots tradition of the fantastical but has a weirdness all its own.
Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory (1984) The much lauded Banks debut. I’ve come to think A Song of Stone may outrank it.
Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations (1776) The foundation stone of Economics.
Compton Mackenzie – Whisky Galore (1947)
Jessie Kesson – The White Bird Passes (1958) To be reviewed within the week!
Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows (1908) I may have read this as a child but can’t honestly remember.
Alexander Trocchi – Young Adam* (1954)
James Kennaway – Tunes of Glory (1956)
John Gibson Lockhart – Adam Blair (1822)

Fleck: a Verse Comedy by Alasdair Gray

A Comedy in Verse Derived from Goethe’s Tragedy of Faust. Two Ravens Press, 2008, 104 p.

Fleck cover

Gray is multi-talented; playwright, novelist, artist. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, he illustrates his own books (and those of others) in a distinctive style. His first novel, Lanark, instantly established him as one of the most important Scottish novelists of his or any generation. His left wing politics are not hard to discern and his enthusiasm for Scottish independence and Scottish culture has displeased some.

Fleck does what it says on the tin; reworks Faust in a modern idiom with the main character recast as a Scottish scientist, Fleck. Other characters include God, Nick and the journalists Pee and Cue. The book also includes a postscript by the author where he discusses the appearances of the devil in the Bible (there are only two,) Satan’s co-option by the established church to police sensuality, the evolution of the Faust story and its influence on Gray personally, and the drawbacks of Goethe’s version. Finally there are five Gray poems which deal with God. A packed 104 pages then.

Verse is a surprisingly good vehicle for Gray’s updated tale. (Or perhaps not surprising if you think of Shakespeare.) The rhythm of the iambic pentameter is a fine motor. And it throws up nicely judged juxtapositions, “Broadcasters think the public is a fool/ so sounding stupid is their golden rule.”

Very little that Gray has written is not worth reading. Fleck is no exception. Not just the play but the postscript and poems too.

Pedant’s corner: Labelling a year as Anus Domini looks like it may be a misprint but I wouldn’t put it past Gray to have used it deliberately. But oughtn’t tug-of-wars for supremacy be tugs-of-war? Bismark for Bismarck.

Gillespie by J MacDougall Hay

Canongate, 1983, 450 p.

Gillespie cover

This novel was first published in 1914 – not a good time to make a debut – and was all but forgotten for the next fifty or so years. When it was reprinted in 1979 it was hailed in some quarters as if it was some sort of lost classic, compared to The House with the Green Shutters, with which it has some thematic similarities. Alasdair Gray describes Gillespie as having “the worst first chapter that ever introduced a novel worth reading.” The chapter is indeed overwrought, and overwritten, but lasts less than two pages.

The book’s subject, Gillespie Strang, is born under a bad sign. Literally. In an inn whose emblem is a dagger striking down. His mother fears all the male Strangs are doomed. This premonition haunts the book but not Gillespie himself. He is the type of man who might be described as a bad lot. On the make, sly and avaricious, tight with his money, he starts off trapping rabbits on others’ land, swiftly moves on and up, proposes to a local girl to cement a business deal with her father – a deal which condemns a neighbour to penurious widowhood – grows to be a power in the town, the fishing village Brieston, based on Hay’s boyhood home, Tarbert, on Loch Fyne. Structured over four books the novel describes Gillespie’s rise and rise through his and his family’s eyes and those of some of his neighbours. Herring fishing, its ups and downs, is a large presence in the early books; weather, storms and drought, a counterpoint to the tale. All are grist to Gillespie’s acquisitive mill.

Gillespie is a very Scottish novel and has that Calvinist intertwining of the religious with the everyday that pervades Scottish literature and even now, despite the decline in religious observance and belief, affects the Scottish character. Predestination hangs over Gillespie Strang like the striking dagger above the inn. Hay was a Church of Scotland minister, so this flavouring is unsurprising. A key phrase is the Biblical quote, “God is not mocked,” that the widowed Mrs Galbraith pins to her door after her eviction due to Gillespie’s dealings with his future father-in-law. It isn’t perhaps a book you would recommend as an introduction to Scottish writing, it is of its time – or perhaps earlier – and its casual references to “the Jew” who pawns items for the locals jar nowadays. And the overwriting too present in chapter one also plagues the book. There is a glossary at the back but not all the Scots expressions used in the novel can be found there. Yet let it wash over you; in most cases the sense will come through.

The viewpoint characters are complex and individual. One of them claims Scottish exceptionalism, “We are the land that barred out the Romans; the land that has pride without insolence; courage without audacity; blood with condescension.” While Mrs Galbraith reflects on the state of women, “They compromised themselves, not out of vice, but simply to please men, who take advantage,” “A woman will sacrifice everything, even life itself, which often is a slow martyrdom, to satisfy the claims of her family,” she herself plans to degrade Gillespie’s wife as a means to repay him the wrongs he has done her.

In an introduction (which, like most such, should not be read till after the book itself) Bob Tait and Isobel Murray say, “The English novel characteristically limits itself to issues more domestic than the Scots.” The strength of the English novel, “lies in analysis of individual, family or group relationships, of individual psychology, or in forms of novels of manners. Gillespie like other Scots novels, has a wider scope. To find similar scope and ambition we have to go to the Russian or American novel where matters political, social, philosophical and metaphysical are more commonly treated.” They explicitly compare it to Moby Dick in its “relentless questioning of the universe and the source and nature of evil.”

To modern tastes Gillespie as a novel might appear overcooked. Its roots lie in Victorian literature; there are reminders of Thomas Hardy in its grimmer scenes, of Dickens in its length and list of characters. It describes a rural/remote Scotland on the cusp of the modern age – a Scotland that has long gone – but reminds us that human nature is unchanging.

Alasdair Gray’s summation of Gillespie is that it is “good, but not throughout.” I’d go along with that.

Merchandise at Kirkcaldy Library

For about a year or so – perhaps more – the shop at Kirkcaldy Library has had for sale items designed by locally based artist Susan McGill. The last time I was there I took this photo:-

Unlikely Stories Mostly cover
The Book of Prefaces Cover

To me the designs above are very reminiscent of those of Alasdair Gray. (See left and right.)
The McGill merchandise includes greetings cards, dish towels and trays. The writing on the tray says, “The Human Race may be a’richt, but this intae yer lug. The mair I see o’ some folks the mair I like ma dug,” or, in plain English, “The Human Race may be all right, but this into your ear. The more I see of some people the more I like my dog.” One of her greetings cards displays a side-on picture of a black and white dog with the second of her two sentences as the caption. A close-up on the tray is below.

The Mair I Like Ma Dug

Projected New Year Reading

Happy New Year everyone.

As I mentioned before the good lady suggested I should take part in her blog friend Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland Challenge. This post is about what I intend to read. (Whether I will actually get around to it all is another matter. There is the small matter of a review for Interzone to be got out of the way as a first priority and other reading to be done.)

When it came up I looked on this project partly as a chance to catch up on Scottish classics I have so far missed. In the frame then is Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s A Scots Quair trilogy – I have read most of his œuvre but not this, his most well-known work. The televison series made of it in the 1970s has been in my memory for a long time, though. I also have his Persian Dawns, Egyptian Nights in my tbr pile and a collection of shorter pieces under the title Smeddum many of which I have already read. I have not managed to source his The Calends of Cairo and doubtless if I did it would be horribly expensive.

Another Scottish classic I haven’t read is J MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie, which lies on my desk as I write this but, according to Alasdair Gray, has the “worst first chapter that ever introduced a novel worth reading.” I consider myself warned.

If I can get hold of a copy then John Galt’s The Member and the Radical will go on the list.

As far as modern stuff is concerned there are multiple novels by Christopher Brookmyre and Allan Massie on my shelves and as yet unread, two by Alan Warner, Andrew Crumey’s Mr Mee and James Robertson’s latest The Professor of Truth.

Plenty to be going on with.

We’ll see how it goes.

A Short Survey of Classic Scottish Writing by Alasdair Gray

Canongate Pocket Classics, 2001, 159 p

Short History Scottish Fiction cover

The book is diminutive in size (16 cm tall, 11 wide) but not content. It rattles through the history of writing in and by Scots from Anglo-Saxon times till the early 20th century. It focuses on what Gray – and most other commentators – consider to be the best in the tradition; hence classic in the book’s title. More recent Scottish writing is deliberately excluded as being too close for a proper perspective.

Several of the works mentioned in the survey were of course overlooked or even derided on first publication and it is only with time their merits have come to be recognised. Overall, though, the literary output from this small nation is shown fit to stand comparison with any.

Book Haul

On Saturday we went to the Christain Aid booksale which is held every two years at St Andrew’s and St George’s Church, George Street, Edinburgh. It was mobbed.

This was my haul:-

Book Haul

The Hoose O Haivers took my fancy just because of its title – it contains short stories by Matthhew Fitt, Susan Rennie and James Robertson.

Rhoda Lerman’s The Book of the Night is a Womens’ Press SF publication from 1986.

The Art Nouveau and Art Deco book was spotted by the good lady (who herself bought 13 books!) It has some lovely illustrations.

Fleck is a verse comedy by Alasdair Gray.

Palace Walk is the first of Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo trilogy.

Goodness knows when I’ll get round to reading them.
The Hoose O Haivers and Fleck are quite short so I could fit them in easily enough I suppose. The Mahfouz looks like a long project though.

The book sale continues till Friday.

A Life In Pictures Alasdair Gray

Canongate, 2010, 304p

 A Life In Pictures cover

This is not an autobiography but a visual chronology of Alasdair Gray’s life. His earliest days are seen in photographs; after his artistic ability became apparent those paintings, drawings, leaflets, book covers, murals etc of which a record remains have all been reproduced in the book, each annotated with the date it was made and the medium he used. One chapter is devoted to the work of Alan Fletcher, a friend of his from Art School, who died young.

Accompanying the pictures are some explanatory words (which only incidentally add up to a potted biography.) Gray seems always to have been a not strictly representational artist – at school an art teacher told him his shadows were wrong or not present; he adopted multi-perspective views. He did attend the Glasgow School of Art, his peers recognising Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece as a wonderful building for their purposes but none of them having been made aware of its designer nor that he had been Scottish until informed by a foreign visitor. That circumstance is almost incomprehensible today. Gray complains of the tutors being hidebound, wedded to the principles of Ruskin, uncaring (ignorant?) of Modern Art, with no mention of the Colourists, as a result of which he and his contemporaries were effectively reinventing earlier modes. There was too an implicit lack of encouragement, no idea of the possibility of making a living as an artist in Scotland. (Arguably there was none at that time.) It was only because Gray was not accepted into the Painting Department for his third year that he took up his signature murals. That seems to me to hang over all his later work as his style is distinctive, even his portraits display that blockiness. So, in a lesser way, do the few landscapes he has painted, which are not as obviously Gray works as the paintings and murals are. Many of his paintings actually remain unfinished since he did not have sufficient time to devote to completing them.

The book is, of course, a feast for the eyes but the text is marred by a few typos. (Proof reading such a complex project cannot have been easy, though.) It does not exist for the text however.

At time of writing Gray is still at work on the huge commission to adorn the walls and ceiling of the Oran Mor Arts and Leisure Centre at the top of Byres Road, Glasgow.

The Ends Of Our Tethers, 13 Sorry Stories by Alasdair Gray.

Canongate, 1985, 181p.

Every Gray book is a visual delight. This is another of those beautifully produced Canongate editions of Gray’€™s works, as usual with wide margins and illustrations by the author, though here there are no footnotes nor marginal annotations. In the main these so-called sorry stories feature, as the book’s title suggests, put-upon protagonists and include more than a few tales of unsatisfactory or failed marriages. They vary in length from two or so to 44 pages.

Gray’€™s narrators tend to have an air of detachment about them and it is unsurprising that their relationships are dysfunctional. Some have especially unfortunate habits. Job’€™s Skin Game‘€™s narrator is so fascinated by his own eczema he subject his scabs to almost Linnaean levels of classification.

Of the other stories that do not focus on marriage Aiblins features the suppression by an academic of a younger poet’€™s works and acts partly as a device to smuggle in some of Gray’€™s own (accomplished) poetry which he nevertheless deconstructs in typical Gray fashion. Wellbeing is about the necessity of not being sane in our crazy world and Big Pockets With Buttoned Flaps is an unusual erotic preference.

15 February 2003 is not so much a story as an account of an anti-Iraq war march. Here Gray mentions that the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. He is confusing this with the invasion of Hungary in that year. The (crushed) Prague Spring was in 1968.

With its illustrations of disconnection mixed with the odd desultory polemic, as an introduction to Gray’€™s world view this collection couldn’t be bettered.

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