Alasdair Gray has been one of my favorite novelists since I read Poor Things many years ago, followed by Lanark, both of which are considered classics. Among the best Scottish writers of the past fifty years, Gray always refreshingly original--there's simply no one like him. In addition to addressing social concerns through a brilliant sense of humor and a deeply empathetic sense of character, his work often contains typographical innovations to convey character thoughts, or to show two strands of narrative at once. He also is an accomplished artist who includes portraits of his characters and other illustrations. Rather than making Gray seem formally experimental, these approaches imbue the fiction with additional layers of complexity. They are always put in the service of interesting characters and situations.
Building on these approaches, Gray's new novel, Old Men in Love, is a mash-up of several different voices, creating a narrative through collage. The main text is presented as the posthumous papers of a retired Glaswegian schoolmaster named John Tunnock, seemingly edited by Gray. Tunnock's a rogue whose exploits often backfire on him, and the novel contains everything from historical fictions set in Renaissance Italy to accounts of how his young mistresses take advantage of him.
This week we'll not only be talking about Old Men in Love, but also exploring some of Gray's earlier fiction, to celebrate the US release of what Gray is calling his last novel. (Hopefully not.)
To start things off, I interviewed Gray by email, about, among other topics, Very and Not Very...