Old Men in Love by Alasdair Gray - review by Martyn Bedford

Martyn Bedford

Grumpy Auld Man

Old Men in Love


Bloomsbury 312pp £20

What can you say about Alasdair Gray’s work that the great old eccentric of Scottish letters hasn’t already said himself? He’s a self-confessed plagiarist (of his own backlist) and plunderer (of other writers), who admits to producing second-rate fiction from shoddy materials – when an author turns the critical gun on himself so spectacularly, the weapons in the reviewer’s armoury are effectively decommissioned. Gray did it in his masterpiece, Lanark, when the eponymous hero and his creator debated the novel’s probable treatment at the hands of the critics. He’s at it again in Old Men in Love – the book ends with an epilogue by Sidney Workman (Gray himself, of course), which serves as an excoriating critique of the author, his oeuvre and this latest novel in particular. It is, Workman suggests: ‘The dreary tale of a failed writer and dirty old man who comes to a well-deserved end through an affair with a drug-dealing procuress. This story is neither tragic nor funny ... [it] should not be read, or if read, swiftly forgotten.’

Ironic self-deprecation, postmodernist playfulness or pre-emptive defence against a critical mauling – whatever the ploy, this self-referential relationship with his own work has long been integral to Gray’s aesthetic. In this new novel (possibly his last, he says, and at the age of seventy-three he might be right), he goes

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