1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray: Review.

1982 janineIn what’s been simultaneously called ‘pornographic’ and ‘taut, witty and deft’, 1982, Janine follows one night in the life of Jock McLeish, who currently occupies a hotel room. Filled with mental illness, regret and a need for sexual arousal as distraction, the book flicks from paranoid rants, detailed personal stories and the tale of Janine, the central sex toy in McLeish’s lengthy sadomasochistic fantasies.

The first half’s major focus is on the sexual fantasies, which are only rarely interrupted by political polemics and reminiscences of former lovers. The book is interestingly laid out, with each page having it’s own title like The Bible, and other pages laid out to create upside down triangles, probably to represent the female form. At a pivotal moment around halfway through the layout goes particularly haywire, but never strays from the witty and bizarre personality of Jock, creating an effect that makes the reader turn pages faster and faster, flip the book around for upside-down text, feeling as though everything happening is happening right now.

The second half follows a more (but still not very) conventional style, documenting a time spent working at a production for the Edinburgh festival. It is to Gray’s credit that his prose is just as much of an insight into McLeish’s mind without the typographical experiments, and the storyline here is just as interesting without the insanity and pornography of the first half.

It would be insane to review this book without mentioning the sex, which is a large part of it. Perversion isn’t the point of the book though; McLeish’s scenes of women going down on each other, or performing slow stripteases in front of private S&M clubs, never reach their climax, and amusingly McLeish interrupts his own thought process when he thinks he’s going to ejaculate before the end of the fantasies.

The true point of the book is to show a repressed man’s inability to kick against the pricks. He is exploited by almost everyone he encounters, and his sexual fantasies might be seen as a reversal of his treatment. He had no dreams, he fell into his job and married without love. But the book is too funny, too intricate and too expert to be depressing. Though definitely not for everyone, this book would suit fans of Will Self, William Burroughs and Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. A fantastic character study of a man who isn’t down on his luck, because he never had any in the first place.

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