Fiction & Biography

ALAsoAin GRAY The Ends of our Tethers :' 0...

Getting old is a bugger of a thing. When the skin begins to shrivel and the mind starts shrinking, there can‘t be too many aspects of life that offer pleasure. Alasdair Gray is an artist (and his dabblings in various genres make him such) who may fear the wagging finger of fate but his writing belies any sense that his spirit is fading. He may describe himself as a “fat. spectacled. balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian‘ but his seemingly endless imaginative vigour keeps him fresh. And while you could put it down to his years (almost 70 now) we prefer to think that the gap between his books is down to a desire to keep members of his fanbase on literary tenterhooks. It‘s seven years since his last proper work of fiction, Mavis Belfrage: A Love Story and Four Shorter Tales. and there won't be many. including celeb admirers from Will Self to Belle & Sebastian. who will be disappointed by the results. The title of this collection (The Ends of our Tethers) and its downbeat subtitle (‘13 Sorry Stories‘) make you think you're in the company of a cantankerous sod but while the depressing content will do little to alter that perception. there is at least a dash of hope (it often misguided) to be

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Gray writes about growing old with grace

found in the hearts of the narrators. The characters are more often than not fairly desperate men; the alcoholic who cannot bear to be left alone by his equally anxious wife in ‘Pillow Talk‘. or the worryingly senile doctor in ‘Swan Burial' who can't seem to remember the name of his administrator.

Of course. while you can laugh grimly at some of these tales. others are perhaps too sombre to allow yourself to have a smile peeking through. The central player of ‘Job‘s Skin Game‘ is a man who has lost both his emigrant sons in the 11 September attacks. Yet he almost dismisses his wife‘s hysteria and tells her to get on with life and consider their deaths to have had some positive meaning. She reads this as unfeeling and he has some kind of comeuppance when his skin begins to slowly peel off. leaving him to set alight the small piles. as though he was cremating himself.

Perhaps Gray‘s true skill is in the moment. the small image which he reveals for us. This could be tiny burning flesh or the poignant conclusion of 'Moral Philosophy Exam' or the woman who hasn't learned how to make a cup of tea in ‘No Bluebeard‘. Whatever he does right, Gray is undoubtedly one of the country's most inspirational figures for young writers. I just hope he can give us one epic sorry story sometime soon. (Brian Donaldson)

Classic novels revisited. This issue: Ann. :“M'” L .





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