Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe

  • Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
    Bloomsbury, 317 pp, £14.99, September 1992, ISBN 0 7475 1246 9

This is Alasdair Gray’s funniest novel, his most high-spirited, and his least uneven. All of which does not necessarily make it his best, but certainly means that we have a nice surprise on our hands when you consider that Gray has spent much of the last few years publicly and gloomily announcing the death of his fictional imagination. That process began in 1985, with the postscript to Lean Tales, the short story collection he shared with Agnes Owens and James Kelman. ‘A director of a London publishing house,’ he wrote (in the third person), ‘asked him if he had enough stories to make another collection. Gray said no. There was a handful of stories he had intended to build into another collection, but found he could not, as he had no more ideas for prose fictions. From now on he would write only frivolous things like plays or poems, and ponderous things like A History Of The Preface or a treatise on The Provision Merchant As Agent Of Evil In Scottish Literature From Galt To Gunn.’

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