19 February 2014

Old Men in Love

Old Men in Love is, according to the (fictional?) reviewer invited to provide an epilogue, Gray’s last book.  If so, it is a fitting bookend for his career, which began with Lanark, a sprawling, disjointed mess of a novel hailed as a Scottish Ulysses and the beginning of a Renaissance in Scots literature.  Like Lanark, Old Men weaves several distinct storylines around a common theme (care to guess the theme?), and presents the material, which the narrator claims is that of another writer, in a non-linear, even incoherent, order.  Old Men in Love is supposedly the collected writings of a Glasgow schoolmaster, containing the existing chapters from a planned fiction trilogy, to be called ‘Money at Play’, and chapters from his diary.

Tunnock is a bachelor who, late in life, discovered a taste for young women that is his downfall.  Diary entries describe his youth in Glasgow, his current situation, and his plans for ‘Money at Play’.  It is his fiction, however, that comprises the bulk of the text.  We get stories of a breakaway Scottish Utopianminister, an Italian painter, and a retelling of Socrates’ trial, each done in by a socially-unacceptable desire; each was to be a volume in the trilogy, but none is near complete.  The trial, which is climactic to Old Men in Love, proceeds as a dialogue and differs greatly from Plato’s account.  It is also the last thing Tunnock writes; he is re-energized by the project and making plans to finish it when he dies.

Old Men in Love is not the important book that Lanark was, but it is another fine piece of creative history and quite a bit of fun.  It is easier to digest than Lanark, as well, being half the size and broken into easily-understood segments loosely bound by Tunnock’s story.  It would be a good introduction to the author for those who are interested in literature outside the mainstream.

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