Lanark 1982
an unofficial Alasdair Gray website

Something Leather (1990)

Something Leather is almost certainly Gray's most misunderstood work, and part of the blame for that probably lies with Gray himself. Not learning from the battles he had defending 1982, Janine from accusations of pornography, Something Leather treads the very same path, but the less cohesive structure and smaller theme makes the book an easy target. However, the criticisms from some feminist reviewers ignores the fact that Kathy Acker gave Gray the idea and liked the novel immensely.

More problems arise from the fact that much of the book was created from previously written (and unconnected) material, rewritten and shoe-horned together into a story.
'The Proposal' was written as 'Martin' and produced for BBC schools in 1971
'The Man Who Knew About Electricity' was produced for BBC television in 1973
'Mr Lang and Ms Tain' was written as 'Sam Lang and Miss Watson' in 1973 but never produced
'In the Boiler Room' was written in 1974 but never produced
'Quiet People' was produced for BBC radio in 1968
'A Free Man with a Pipe' was written as 'Dialogue' and produced for BBC radio in 1969 and television in 1972.

Perhaps attempting to divert attention from what he saw a potential defects, Gray lavishes as much attention on the look of the book as on any other of his novels, perhaps more than most. The wasp motif from the boards is carried over onto the pages of the book itself. Each chapter opens with an oversized initial capital letter illuminated with a portrait of one of that chapter's lead characters. The front flap gives a long description of the novel: 'The story starts near the end, has ten earlier starts, a crisis, a catastrophe and a moral. Unlike Alasdair Gray's other books SOMETHING LEATHER has no fantasy, and combines the amenities of a novel with the varieties of a short story collection.' The back flap contains 'Chapter 14: The Sitting Room, 221B Baker Street" which has Dr Watson complaining of the absence of the lighthouse keeper and trained cormorant promised on the front flap, ending with the statement: "I doubt if this book will be taken seriously south of the Tweed - or north of it either".

The first paperback edition relegates Gray's admirable cover illustration to the title page, to be replaced by a dismal grainy colour photograph, of what looks like a prostitute, on a black background. Probably the worst cover to one of Gray's books, it was replaced for later editions with a slightly amended version of the hardback cover. The back of the paperback reproduces most of the description from the hardback jacket's front flap, plus a selection of 'What the critics say'. One column is labelled VERY FOR (e.g. 'Brilliantly funny, beautifully observed, and shot through with irony': Anne Smith, Literary Review) and the other NOT VERY FOR (e.g. 'A confection of self-indulgent tripe': Victoria Glendinning, The Times).

In response to Dr Watson's protestations in the first hardback edition, the penultimate page of the paperback contains an illustration of the lighthouse keeper and cormorant (presumably trained). Also an additional paragraph to the Acknowledgements states that: 'I finally acknowledge that it was a bad idea to call this book Something Leather. It directed the attention of half the critics who noticed the novel to Chapters 1 and 12, so they reviewed it as if it was mainly a sado-masochistic Lesbian adventure story. Had I called it Glaswegians they might have paid more attention to the chapters from 2 to 11. However, for excellent publicity reasons this book will keep its bad name until it is forgotten."

 

BUY THIS BOOK
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 available


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.