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Ten books set in Glasgow

Written by
Mimmi Ronning

The literary capital of Scotland is generally thought to be Edinburgh, but Glasgow has its fair share of brilliant authors, many of whom have penned novels set in the city. Here are ten you should definitely have on your reading list. 

Alasdair Gray - 'Lanark'

Alasdair Gray Lanark

Alasdair Gray’s most famous novel is a postmodern rendering of 'The Divine Comedy' and a curious mix of social realism and dark fantasy. Half is set in Glasgow, half in the Glaswegian hell of Unthank. Autobiographical in parts, the novel, which is really four books in one, follows the troubled life of Duncan Thaw/Lanark. The two books set in Glasgow feature many well-known places, such as The Art School. 

Alexander McArthur - 'No Mean City'
A grim and unflinching read, 'No Mean City' was first published in 1935 and is set in the 1920s Glasgow slums. It’s the story of Johnnie Stark aka the ‘Razor King’, a gangster roaming the infamous neighbourhood the Gorbals. Moreover, it’s an insight into working class life in Glasgow at the time, and explores the issues the city’s poorer inhabitants faced.

Denise Mina - 'Garnethill'
The debut of crime writer Denise Mina and the first novel in a trilogy. When Maureen O’Donnell wakes up one morning, she finds her boyfriend murdered. The police suspect her and her drug dealing brother of the crime, but Maureen is determined to clear her own name and starts her own investigation. Dark and gritty, just as a crime novel set in Glasgow should be. 

James Kelman - 'How Late It Was, How Late'

James Kelman How Late It Was, How Late

Winner of the 1994 Booker Prize, Kelman’s Kafka-esque, social realist novel follows Sammy, who wakes up blind after a weekend of drinking that ended with a beating. The novel is about his struggles with social authorities, his way of coping with his blindness and his attempt to figure out what happened prior to the beating, all told in working-class Scots and in a stream of consciousness style. 

Louise Welsh - 'The Cutting Room'
Louise Welsh’s award-winning debut tells the story of Rilke, a promiscuous auctioneer in his 40s, who discovers a collection of disturbing photographs when clearing out the house of a dead man. The dead man’s sister begs him to destroy the photos, which seem to have something to do with the murder of a young woman. Instead Rilke starts investigating the mystery behind the photos, which leads him into dark and disreputable parts of Glasgow. 

Archie Hind - 'The Dear Green Place'
The only complete work of Archie Hind, published in 1966, 'The Dear Green Place' is an autobiographical novel about the life of Mat Craig, a working class man with a desire to become a writer. Mat is torn between abandoning his dreams to work in a slaughterhouse, and quitting his work to pursue his literary ambitions. A tragic story about the conflict between artistic ambition and social pressure, against the backdrop of 'the dear green place' of the title - Glasgow. 

Meg Henderson - 'Finding Peggy'
A memoir of growing up in the poor Blackhill district in Glasgow in the 1950s. Henderson describes an environment beset with religious sectarianism and gang violence, and paints a loving portrait of her mother and of her Aunt Peggy, both strong and idealistic women. The novel also deals with the tragic death of Peggy, the impact it had on the family and Meg’s discovery of the reasons behind the tragedy.

Christopher Brookmyre - 'The Sacred Art of Stealing'
A stand-alone sequel to 'A Big Boy did it and Ran Away', 'The Sacred Art of Stealing' charts the romantic relationship that develops between police officer Angelique de Xavia and failed artist and thief Zal Innez after the latter’s attempt at a daylight bank robbery. This satirical crime novel is, typically for Brookmyre, full of dark humour, violence and references to Scottish culture, literature and artistic works.

Karen Campbell - 'The Twilight Time'

Karen Campbell The Twilight Time

Ex-police officer Campbell’s debut novel and the first part in her crime series follows Anna Cameron who, as the new sergeant at the Flexi Unit, discovers that she is to work with her ex-boyfriend. Aside from Anna’s personal struggles, there is also an investigation that leads into the Glasgow’s underworld, home to prostitutes, drug dealers, sordid characters and plenty of violence.

Robert Douglas - 'Night Song of the Last Tram'
A much-praised memoir, in which Douglas writes about growing up in a one room flat in Glasgow during and after World War II. His father was a drunkard who abused Robert and his mother, who in turn was a loving and strong woman. Douglas tells a story that is both sad, humorous and nostalgic, about what it was like to grow up in poverty in mid-20th century Glasgow.

See more things to do in Glasgow from Time Out.

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