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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Ends of Our Tethers

Alasdair Gray

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To purchase The Ends of Our Tethers

Title: The Ends of Our Tethers
Author: Alasdair Gray
Genre: Stories
Written: 2003
Length: 181 pages
Availability: The Ends of Our Tethers - US
The Ends of Our Tethers - UK
The Ends of Our Tethers - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine scattered pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 28/10/2003 Nicholas Blincoe
The Guardian A 11/10/2003 Irvine Welsh
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2004 Stephen Bernstein
San Francisco Chronicle . 4/4/2004 Michael Standaert
The Scotsman C+ 18/10/2003 Allan Massie
The Spectator . 18/10/2003 Sam Phipps
TLS . 28/11/2003 Mick Imlah

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, some very impressed, some far from it

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his new collection is filled with the desires, eccentricities and infirmities of men of pensionable age in a way that can only be taken for dramatised, covert confession. His characters examine themselves in detail, discover their failings and find the results painful -- all in a profoundly warm and resonant prose which brings its own beauty to these enquires." - Nicholas Blincoe, Daily Telegraph

  • "His new collection of short stories contains almost everything we have come to associate with its author. The pages glow with keen and incisive wit, are stuffed with quirky and downright weird occurrences, while the philosophical ruminations make us pause for thought, and the sad, flawed, often cowardly, but ultimately humane and decent protagonists are back with a vengeance. (...) This (unfortunately) will probably not be the book to give Gray the mass international readership his work richly deserves, but it will serve to remind those of us who have enjoyed him over the years of just how good he is." - Irvine Welsh, The Guardian

  • "Gray’s short fiction has arguably never been as strong as his novels, and readers who know him only through the novels may miss some of their power here. But there is much to recommend and enjoy. Gray’s characteristic style appears in abundance, and the sheer melody of his sentences is undiminished." - Stephen Bernstein, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "What Gray manages is to transfer the cranky wisdom he has gathered through his 70 years into clear-headed observation of modern life -- marriage and relationships as well as the isolation, loss and the failures which come from these interactions -- and steadily dissect them with a mischievous eye." - Michael Standaert, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Alasdair Gray (sensibly) has anticipated his executor and published a ragbag while he is still with us. He has given it the sub-title 13 Sorry Stories , which is brave or, if you prefer, foolhardy, because most of them are poor things better left in the bottom drawer. They all have flashes of charm, because nothing that Gray writes is without charm. But that is part of the trouble. He is relying on his charm to see him through." - Allan Massie, The Scotsman

  • "The Ends of Our Tethers, Gray’s first work of fiction for seven years, confirms that at the age of 68 he is in rude, wry and irascible health, compellingly inventive and perceptive -- and never afraid to send himself up." - Sam Phipps, The Spectator

  • "Given the teasing fanfare of Gray's artwork, the effect of the book as a whole is boldly insubstantial, and not just because there is so little text on each of its pages. Only four or five of the pieces seem designed to be memorable: generally, those that deal most plainly with the depredations of age." - Mick Imlah, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Ends of Our Tethers collects 13 Sorry Stories, a variety of pieces ranging from what amount to fairly brief anecdotes to substantial stories. Gray also appends a section of: "End Notes and Critic Fuel", and includes some bits from a discarded alternate thirteenth story.
       It's less the stories that are sorry themselves than the lots described in them: the characters are often old, weary, in some way defeated -- and yet there's always some sense of cheer, and of something satisfying left to hold onto. Relationships tend to be settled ones, though not necessarily happy unions (with one partner generally more pleased than the other). The solitary souls also seem accepting of their lots.
       There's a sense of rounded satisfaction, a coming to terms with that the narrators (the pieces are almost all presented in the first person) seem to feel comfortable enough with, in all these conclusions. A few of the story-endings even offer considerable joy: the narrator of Miss Kincaid's Autumn concludes that she: "had not felt so happily at home for years." Job's Skin Game chronicles an extreme case of eczema (inspired by Gray's own condition) and the narrator's additionally unhealthy preoccupation with his skin (and scabs); he loses his position as a result, but finds himself better off, looking forward to eventually living entirely in his new skin.
       Most of the stories, however, revel more in misery, something the characters have (or had) to face and deal with. As Gray explains in one devoted to two devastating disappointments (Sinkings):

Yet the moments I remember with most interest are not my happiest ones, but those times when the ordinary ground under my feet seemed suddenly to sink, leaving me several yards lower than I thought normal or possible.
       (Interestingly, as Gray explains in his end-notes, the two episodes described in that particular piece are actually those of a friend of his.)
       Aiblins, one of the longer stories, describes a narrator who taught a creative writing course years earlier, and whose encounter with a promising young poet seems to have ruined that promise. Here Gray's critic-fuel is of particular interest, as he acknowledges that the young poet is a composite of several people "but chiefly myself", and that the poems appearing in the story are Gray's own early efforts -- part "of a sequence I wrote in my teens and luckily failed, despite many efforts, to get published". The title of the piece, he also explains, "is an old Scots word for 'perhaps'", and the whole story does suggest a what-might-have-become-of-him scenario.
       15 February 2003 is a bit out of place: it is, essentially, non-fiction, describing Gray's joining a political demonstration that day (against the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq).
       The most wildly imagined story is the final one, Wellbeing, the Gray-like narrator living in a dystopian future where he is homeless and "British publishing had stopped. Not even newspapers were produced" -- and: "now my books are only read in nations that lost World War Two." Like most dystopias, it's about the present, not some possible future, and makes for a sombre ending to the collection -- though, once again, one that doesn't suggest utter defeat.

       The Ends of Our Tethers offers a good mix of pieces, from the simple and playful to the extended narratives summing up entire lives. The approach in most of them is a familiar one, recognisably Gray's, and not all readers might warm to it, but fans certainly won't be disappointed.

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The Ends of Our Tethers: Reviews: Alasdair Gray Other books by Alasdair Gray under review: Books about Alasdair Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       Scottish author Alasdair Gray was born in 1934. A noted illustrator and author, he has written a number of remarkable works of fiction.

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