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Alasdair Gray: Ink for Worlds.

Alasdair Gray: Ink for Worlds. Edited by Camille Manfred. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. ISBN 9781137401779. 240pp. hbk. 55 [pounds sterling].

In 2012 the University of Brest hosted the first international Alasdair Gray conference, and Alasdair Gray: Ink for Worlds combines the best papers from that conference with some fascinating additions. Such collections are often hit and miss; a mix of genuine insight and new thought and a rehash of well-worn critical theories applied to a particular writer or book. A brief look at the 'Notes on Contributors' is enough to reassure that there will be more of the former than the latter in this case. Professor Alan Riach, Gray's artistic agent Sorcha Dallas, Gray's biographer Rodge Glass, editor of the recent, and controversial, Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence Scott Hames, and even Gray himself, appear alongside scholars of Gray's words and pictures. This lends Ink for Worlds a rare insight and a personal connection to its subject resulting in a book that is more interesting than it might have been otherwise, and which has a reach beyond the academic world. Anyone interested in Alasdair Gray and his work will find something to relish here.

Reflecting the aims of the conference, Ink for Worlds attempts to view the artist as fully as possible. Gray the novelist, the playwright, the painter, the poet and the polemicist are all examined, as are Gray's politics. The book is split into three sections, 'Myth and Creation', 'The Art of Subversion' and 'Visions and Trompe l'oeils', but it can also be split into critical detachment and personal insight, with the latter telling us more about the artist than his work. 'Myth and Creation' focuses on 'Alasdair Gray's Textual Purgatories', which is a wonderful description of his fiction. Marie-Odile Pitten-Heddon's and Kirsten Stirling's opening chapters concentrate mainly on Gray's best known and most influential novel, Lanark, and they make for an excellent introduction to the themes and concerns which run through all of Gray's fiction. Concentrating on 'memory and truth' and the importance of Goethe respectively, they manage to do what many would think impossible: to shine new light onto one of Scotland's most critically discussed texts. Goethe's and Dante's influence is something Gray himself discusses in chapter four, and he sets out his reasons for his adaptations of both. It is an interesting rather than revealing read, but how like the man to appear in a book about himself! It is a worthwhile inclusion on that basis alone.

Scott Hames's chapter, 'The Settlers and Colonists Affair', is an excellent addition as it puts into context one of the most recent and high profile controversies in which Gray has found himself embroiled. Gray's essay 'Settlers and Colonists', which featured in Unstated, was pounced upon by an eager media during the run-up to the Scottish referendum on independence as evidence of an allegedly wide-spread anti-English feeling amongst those who supported a 'Yes' vote. A year on from this, Hames reflects on how events unfolded, his own role in those, and concludes that while Gray may have been either mischievous or naive in his choice of language, no one involved could have predicted its reception. There is a certain irony that two of the most celebrated pieces of Scottish theatre in 2015 are David Greig's adaptation of Lanark, and the National Theatre of Scotland's Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, adapted from Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos and directed by Vicky Featherstone, who became involved in the row through no fault of her own after being named as an example of a 'colonist'. Perhaps this is a timely reminder that, no matter who you are or where you are from, it is the quality of the work that matters most.

Sorcha Dallas's chapter on The Alasdair Gray Foundation links the visual and literary by setting out the plans for his work to be archived in all its forms, and this is something which is also touched upon in the most insightful chapter in this collection, Rodge Glass's 'Conclusion', which concisely achieves what the book aims to do by putting Gray's life and work in context. Glass states that he thought his time writing about Gray had ended, but this conference pulled him back in, and as the person who has worked as closely with Gray in recent years as anyone he is perfectly placed to look at Gray's most recent work and discuss where it stands in the wider canon. He rightly points out that Gray is as aware of his own legacy as anyone, with his lifelong dream of having all his works collected on a single shelf recently realised, and that any reflection on Gray has to consider this shelf in total; both the great, the good, and the bad. Glass lends a sense of perspective, which is welcome. Will Gray find room on his shelf for Ink For The Worlds? I am sure he will; but I am equally certain he will have plenty to say about it.

Alistair Braidwood

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Author:Braidwood, Alistair
Publication:Scottish Literary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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