Lanark 1982
an unofficial Alasdair Gray website

1982 Janine (1984)

Listen to Alasdair Gray read an excerpt from 1982 Janine. (Real Player file: 2 mins 21 secs)

1982, Janine began life as one of the likely stories, entitled If it's Tuesday, it must be Dumfries, planned for the short story collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly, but like Topsy it growed and growed and eventually ended up as a 350-page novel. The novel is Gray's favourite of his books and many readers go along with that assessment. But, as with Lanark, take it on only if you know you appreciate Gray's approach to the world (you should also avoid it if you're easily offended).

As with most of his books, Gray wrote his own cover blurb:

This already dated novel is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations who is tippling in the bedroom of a small Scottish hotel. Though full of depressing memories and propaganda for the Conservative Party it is mainly a sadomasochistic fetishistic fantasy. Even the arrival of God in the later chapters fails to elevate the tone. Every stylistic excess and moral defect which critics conspired to ignore in the author's first books, Lanark and Unlikely Stories, Mostly, is to be found here in concentrated form.

The book is about relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, bosses and employees, smaller countries and bigger countries. Jock McLeish, a failure in life, love and business is drunk and alone in a hotel in a town he can't remember the name of. He uses sexual fantasies as a means of displaying power and control over someone's life, anyone's, even if only in his mind, because he has lost control of his own. The fantasies, however, never reach climax because he always drifts away, involuntarily, into remembering some moment of his life that gives him pain or guilt or both. Deciding to end his life, he takes an overdose of pills and whisky, which leads to one of the most amazing displays of linking typographically form with content in any popular novel. LINK TO AN EXAMPLE PAGE. Voices from his conscience, memory and imagination crowd around him from all angles on the page and in all types and size of font over 10 pages culminating in 5 blank pages when he passes out and revives in a state of blessed clarity. At this point we are only just over halfway through the novel.

Predictably, the book divided reviewers into two groups: they either loved it or hated it.

Jonathan Baumbach, in The New York Times said: "1982 Janine has a verbal energy, an intensity of vision that has mostly been missing from the English novel since D.H Lawrence."

Peter Levi, on the BBC's book programme Bookmark said: "I recommend nobody to read this book ... It is sexually oppressive, the sentences are far too long and it is boring hogwash. Radioactive hogwash."

Anthony Burgess felt forced to retract his earlier praise for the author: "On the strength of Lanark I proclaimed Alasdair Gray the first major Scottish writer since Walter Scott. 1982, Janine displays the same large talent deployed to a somewhat juvenile end."

Yet George Melly wrote: "If Alasdair Gray were a pornographer he would be rather a good one. He is not a pornographer, however. His power to titillate is betrayed by humour and pathos, the worst enemies of true porn. Humour is what makes the book bearable, though Gray's humour is very Scottish - that is to say, black."

And, finally, J.A. McArdle, in the Irish Independent wrote: "I have read reviews of these books which makes me suspect that the commentators had never read them. 1982, Janine is not pornography but a thoughtful and sad study of the human predicament; to be trapped in a world where the little man, woman or country will always be exploited by the big bullies."

This last comment sums up why 1982, Janine is favoured by Gray and many of his biggest admirers. It exemplifies his ability to portray definite links, or perhaps merely reflections, between relationships on a personal level and relationships on a national or international scale without resorting to crude sterotypes. The use of sadomasochistic sexual fantasies may have deflected reviewers from seeing this (although Gray didn't learn any lesson, and repeated the trick, though with less success, in the 1990 novel Something Leather): they either closed the book in horror as soon as sex was mentioned or were peeved when the fantasies stopped before the interesting bits started. There is no excuse for readers to do the same.


Alasdair Gray's books are sometimes difficult to get hold of. Where they are available, I have included links below to the amazon sites in the UK and the USA. Where a record is on their database, they will usually include links to used-book sellers who can offer the title, even if it is not available direct from amazon themselves.

Paperback also on Amazon

Alternatively, you can try emailing Morag McAlpine, who can send you a list of available titles. She usually has a variety of out-of-print books, often signed, and also a selection of prints of Gray's artwork, also signed.