Lanark: A Life in Four Books

book by Alasdair Gray

Lanark: A Life in Four Books was the first novel of Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, and is still his most famous. Written over a period of almost thirty years, it combines realist and dystopian fantasy depictions of his home town of Glasgow. Its publication in 1981 prompted Anthony Burgess to call Gray "the best Scottish novelist since Walter Scott". The book has since won the Saltire Society Book of the Year and David Niven awards, and has become a cult classic.

Art is the only work open to people who can't get along with others and still want to be special.


  • Instead of visiting ten parties since you came here, laying ten women and getting drunk ten times, you've watched thirty days go by. Instead of making life a continual feast you chop it into days and swallow them regularly, like pills.
  • Art is the only work open to people who can't get along with others and still want to be special.
  • Remember, Duncan, when most people leave school they have to live by work which can't be liked for its own sake and whose practical application is outside their grasp. Unless they learn to work obediently because they're told to, and for no other reason, they'll be unfit for human society.
  • I bet you felt very special and superior, being punished by God for something he doesn't give a damn for in other folk. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but ye may as well leave God and masturbation out of it and go back to having asthma in the normal way.
  • People in Scotland have a queer idea of the arts. They think you can be an artist in your spare time, though nobody expects you to be a spare-time dustman, engineer, lawyer or brain surgeon.
  • Of course in nature the only end is death, but death hardly ever happens when people are at their best. That is why we like tragedies. They show men ending energetically with their wits about them and deserving to do it.
  • I paint because I feel cheap and purposeless when I don't.
  • I envy your purpose.
  • I envy your self-confidence.
  • Why?
  • It makes you welcome at parties. It lets you kiss the host's daughter behind the sofa when you're drunk.
  • That means nothing, Duncan.
  • Only if you can't do it.
  • I wish I was a duck on Alexandra Park pond. I could swim, and fly, and walk, and have three wives, and everything I wanted. But I'm a man. I have a mind, and three library tickets, and everything I want is impossible.
  • Space is infinite to men without destinations.
  • Attention, please note! Attention, please note! The expansion committee announces that after the hundred and eightieth all twittering is to be treated as a sign of hopelessness!
  • Man is the pie that bakes and eats itself, and the recipe is separation.

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