July 02, 2003

Unlikely Stories, Mostly

Chris Bertram blogs that he’s just bought Alasdair Gray’s Book of Prefaces, and is enjoying it. I recommend it too - it’s a beautiful book, especially in the hardcover edition. My wife got it as a Christmas present for me two years ago. Very few books published today are lovely as physical objects; The Book of Prefaces is one of them. Gorgeous typography mixing red and black ink, intelligent marginalia and, best of all, the occasional, spare illustrations which intersperse the text.

Gray, like Mervyn Peake, Wyndham Lewis and, more recently, Edward Carey, is a talented draughtsman as well as writer - he illustrates his own books. Lanark, which is on Chris’s “to read” list, used to have a wonderful front-cover illustration that parodies the famous frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan in which the Leviathan - the monarch - is made up of his subjects. The king, in Gray’s version, is Gray himself. Lanark is an extraordinary, if patchy, novel, mixing brilliance and frustrating obtuseness in equal doses; it’s closer to a 20th century Scots socialist version of the Pilgrim’s Progress than a conventional novel with beginning, middle and end. Indeed, the book begins with its third part, and its ending has to be inferred from the footnotes. This extract from the introduction to Lanark’s new edition imparts some of the book’s flavor.

Ken MacLeod’s blog draws its title from Gray’s exhortation to “work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.” Which is a rather good political slogan as political slogans go. Gray is unique as a writer, as an anthologist, as a draughtsman and as a political provocateur - and of course, as the sum of all these. He contains multitudes.

Posted by Henry at July 2, 2003 08:15 PM | TrackBack

And Unlikely Stories, Mostly contains “The Great Bear Cult,” one of my favorite stories of all time. Alasdair Gray is the shit. Believe it.

But I’ve never been able to get my hands on a copy of Prefaces. My life is blighted by this.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at July 2, 2003 11:16 PM

I love his “Five Letters from an Eastern Empire” in the same collection - it’s one of the texts I have stuck in the back of my head for the course I’ll teach one day on politics and literature. And the illustrations in Unlikely Stories Mostly are lovely too - simple, clean, touching and funny. The illustration at the beginning of “The Star” (I think - my copy is back in Ireland) is stunning.

The Book of Prefaces is well worth getting - especially in the hardback. It’s beautiful to look at, and his marginal comments on the texts are intelligent and provocative. It’s clearly a labour of love - and it’s rather wonderful that the book got published (and indeed got very good write-ups in the UK press).

Posted by: Henry at July 3, 2003 12:25 AM

It was your sister, not your wife, that got Prefaces, and only last Christmas too!!

which may mean there is hope for you, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, as I found it in the famous Foyles’ Bookshop in London…

Posted by: Maria at July 3, 2003 02:59 AM

Prefaces appears to be at the moment available on Amazon. (US, too, not UK)


Posted by: Paul Weimer at July 4, 2003 12:11 PM

I like your web design

Posted by: Fred at October 21, 2003 06:52 AM

thank’s for info regadrs

Posted by: Gerry Osborn at December 27, 2003 10:07 PM
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