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Alasdair Gray: 1982, Janine

Gray said that this was the favourite of his books but not all critics agreed, not least because of the sadomasochistic fantasies of the narrator, Jock McLeish. McLeish works in security. He is divorced and an alcoholic. He is spending the night in a Scottish hotel. The first half is his stream of consciousness account of his sexual fantasies which include Janine but also include characters called Superb (aka Superbitch), Big Momma and Helga. Janine looks a bit like Jane Russell, as she was in the film The Outlaw. But, as well as his pornographic fantasies, he also thinks about the economic situation and his previous life. These external thoughts make him depressed and he decides to kill himself by taking an overdose of barbiturates. However, he ends up vomiting up the pills and the text suddenly splits up all over the page. This all leads to the second part, where he tells his story in chronological order, including his love life, his marriage, the death of his friend and his job. Critics have suggested some of the book is simply porn and, indeed, it is. If that bothers you, then don’t read this book. But does it make it worthwhile? The fact of the matter is that lonely men in Scottish hotel rooms do have sadomasochistic fantasies and it is naïve to pretend otherwise. Gray was so aware of the controversy that the paperback version of the book had selections from the critics, entitled GOODBYE. Critics made the point that the book describes what does happen and this is true, but that doesn’t necessarily make for great literature, For me, the book didn’t work. It does have a certain dark humour – the ending when breakfast arrives is amusing – but he overdoes the fantasies and the rest is, frankly, tedious. I would stick to Lanark.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Jonathan Cape